Band Protesting

The ECU marching band had several members protest the National Anthem and took a knee during a football game in 2016.

As the events of the past week have unfolded following the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota police officers, East Carolina University coaches and former athletes have had several comments in response.

Harold Varner III, a former ECU men’s golfer from 2008 to 2011 and current PGA Tour golfer, released a statement via Twitter June 1. In the two page statement, Varner urges us all to keep an open mind.

“There are objective truths in life. I think that’s one of them,” Varner said. “But life is more nuanced than just a simple statement, and if there’s one thing that is emblematic of today’s society, I think it’s that we constrict ourselves to single-minded thought.”

Varner is in his fifth season on tour and is one of only three African-Americans in the top 200 on the Official World Golf Ranking. Varner sits at 124 in the top 200 ranking which also includes Tiger Woods at 11 and Cameron Champ at 83.

Some ECU coaches have chimed in on the conversation including women’s basketball head coach Kim McNeill and her husband, the associate head coach Cory McNeill, who have both shared their thoughts on social media. The McNeills took to Twitter on May 31 to speak their minds while they offered perspectives on how they view the ongoing protests.

Kim McNeill mentioned the daily conversations she and her staff have with players about “what it means to be African-American women.” Cory McNeill shared his experiences with racism and prejudice as an African-American male himself.

“Here’s the thing that the people who targeted me,” Cory McNeill said. “They almost started with an insult because they didn’t know if I was Latino or black. I guess did it make it worse either way from their point of view and what they were trying to insinuate? For me it didn’t make a difference whether you thought I was black or whether you thought I was Latino, first and foremost you should have thought of me as a human being.”

The current administration at ECU has spoken out about the same topics and events and has been largely in favor of coaches and athletes alike speaking out. Student Body President Tucker Robbins and Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson each issued statements to students of the university on June 1 that were heavily in favor of students taking roles in social justice and activism.

Kim McNeill said the administration's backing is appreciated, but she is still disappointed that these are issues we still deal with today.

“Obviously it means a lot, I guess for me, going beyond the administration,” Kim McNeill said. “The fact that more black lives had to be killed in order for us to bring as much attention to it as it has now. We shouldn’t be at that point because we should be having daily conversations anyway.”

Kim McNeill also mentioned the open door policy she has with her players and staff in an effort to maximize these necessary conversations.

“We have to be comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations because that’s the only way we’re going to make progress and not to sugar coat things. We talk to our young ladies all the time,” Kim McNeill said.

There was a time at ECU when the conversations being had were not as in favor of the kind of change and social justice many are seeking today. On Oct. 1, 2016, several members of the ECU marching band chose to take a knee while playing the national anthem as a form of protest when the Pirates hosted the University of Central Florida.

A letter was written which stated that kneeling for the anthem was prohibited and was signed by ECU’s director of the School of Music, Christopher Ulffers, associate director of bands at the time and current director of bands Dr. William Staub and Christopher Buddo, ECU’s dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, according to Inside Higher ED.

“College is about learning, and it is our expectation that the members of the Marching Pirates will learn from this experience and fulfill their responsibilities. While we affirm the right of all our students to express their opinions, protests of this nature by the Marching Pirates will not be tolerated moving forward,” the letter said.

Alex Turner, a former defensive tackle for the Pirates was waiting to run out onto the field when the event took place.

“It was a really controversial topic after Colin Kapepernick did it, and I think a lot of people during that time saw it as disrespect to our nation and the national anthem, but I don’t think a lot of people understood the message,” Turner said. “I think a lot of people didn’t understand the reason that they were doing that.”

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