College of the Ozarks, a private Christian college in southwest Missouri, announced Friday that it will require players and coaches from other schools to respect the American flag and the national anthem.
Calling it a “No Pledge, No Play” policy, Jerry Davis, College of the Ozarks president, says the school will not play in games where the flag or the anthem is called into question because that action disrespects veterans.
“It’s a shame sporting events are being used to communicate disrespect for this great country,” Davis says. “We will not be a part of this.”
Davis says that if that means his teams have to forfeit games or even give up the NAIA national men’s basketball tournament, which College of the Ozarks has hosted for the last 18 years, he’s fine with that.
“Better to forfeit a game than to forfeit your honor,” he said.
Few college coaches have weighed in on the national controversy involving President Trump’s criticism of players who take a knee during the National Anthem as a sign of protesting police brutality against African-Americans, among other issues. In part, that’s because at college football games, the national anthem is played while the teams are still in the locker rooms. That could change during the upcoming basketball season.
College of the Ozarks doesn’t have a football team, but Davis says school officials began talking about the controversy earlier this year. Davis says he’s surprised he was asked if his school has black players during the flurry of phone calls he received after the school sent out a press release Friday afternoon.
Davis says this isn’t about race.
“It’s almost like if you do something that’s politically incorrect, everybody wants to make a racist out of somebody,” he says. “The issue is: proper respect for the country in which we live.”
Davis has trademarked College of the Ozarks as “Hard Work U” because it allows students in for free and requires them to work. Freshman are required to take military science and a “patriotic goal” is written into the school’s mission statement.
“There’s a goal to encourage an understanding of American heritage, civic responsibility, love of country and willingness to defend it,” Davis says. “We don’t think that insulting veterans, being disrespectful to the country, is consistent with love of country and willingness to defend it.”
Peggy Lowe is KCUR's investigations editor. She's on Twitter at @peggyllowe.
Lisa Rodriguez is KCUR's afternoon news anchor. She's on Twitter at @larodrig.