Several East Tennessee State basketball players say they think their coach will resign this week because he supported their silent protest against racial inequality before games this season.

Jason Shay, who was named head coach of the Buccaneers last year after serving as an assistant for five years, just finished a 13-12 season with two years left on his contract that earned him at least $300,000 a year, including incentive pay. In a statement released by the university, Shay said he had decided that it was in the best interest of myself, my family and the ETSU men’s basketball program to not continue as a basketball coach.

Last year was extremely difficult for me in many ways, he said. This is a good time for a new challenge and a chance to redefine my personal and professional goals.

Shay has been at the center of the Tennessee storm since his players protested during the national anthem. Earlier in the season, team members said they planned to kneel during the national anthem, and Shea pledged his support, according to ETSU sports information director Kevin Brown.

School officials, including President Brian Noland, did not respond to calls from ESPN, and Shay declined further comment when contacted via text message.

Athletic director Scott Carter, who did not respond to calls from ESPN, released a statement Thursday saying the dismissal was not due to controversy.

ETSU did not fire or force Coach Shea to resign, according to the statement. As stated in the terms of the severance agreement, Coach Shay’s statement, and my previous statement, Coach Shay has decided to resign.

But Shea’s players are convinced he would still be the head coach if he didn’t support them.

Personally, I think his retirement is awesome, point guard Truth Harris told ESPN in a brief phone interview. It shows a lot of what’s going on right now in this city and in this country.

It was just a matter of taking a knee and then Coach Shay assisted us. People should want a coach who supports his players no matter what, ETSU senior guard Jordan Coffin said in a video retweeted by Shay’s daughter, Paige Shay. He continued: If that’s a reason to resign, I want nothing to do with it.

Senior defender David Sloan also expressed his support for his former coach. Thanks for standing by us during this crazy year, he wrote. If no one else stayed, I loved you and am grateful to have been a part of your first team as head coach !!!!.

So much love to @jshay5 and family…. Thanks guys for everything… Shay, thank you for supporting us when no one else does. Forever grateful������ https://t.co/U4giYIH0DP

– Jordan Coffin ߙ (@J2coldCoffin) March 31, 2021

The backlash began shortly after players and coaches united during the national anthem before the game against rival Chattanooga on Feb. 15. His protest against racial inequality quickly spread to conservative East Tennessee and sparked outrage among some activists, fans and legislators. Much of the criticism focused on Shea, a white coach who strongly supported the protests of his predominantly black players.

Some lawmakers and advocates saw the demonstration not as a protest against inequality, but as an insult to the flag and those who have sacrificed to protect it.

East Tennessee State’s Shay team travels to Chattanooga for the game on the 15th. February on the knees. Twenty-seven lawmakers signed a letter calling the act offensive and disrespectful. Jesse Krull/WWHL.

His neck wasn’t crooked. Speaking to reporters amidst the controversy, he acknowledged that only veterans truly know the fear, pain and anguish of the losses they suffered fighting for our country’s freedom and rights. Then he added: But many of us do not experience the same sacrifices, fears, pain and losses that people of color endured for 400 years. My team reminds me every day that there are things beyond basketball.

Shay’s stance has had some resonance on campus, where Noland has spoken encouraging words. I do not feel that any of our student-athletes wanted to denigrate the flag, our country, the veterans or any other member of our community. I feel like his goal was to draw attention to many of the issues facing our country, Noland said at a virtual press conference on Sept. 9. March. It is my great hope that… we as a campus can play a leading role in facilitating discussion and dialogue, so that people from different organizations can come together and find common ground.

The coach also received support from students and activist groups who expressed solidarity with him and the team, but this did not stop the political pressure.

U.S. Rep. Diane Harshbarger, a Republican in whose district the university is located, tweeted that she was disappointed in the ETSU team and that their protest was disrespectful to veterans.

The letter, signed by all 27 members of the Tennessee Republican Senate Committee, calls on university presidents across the state to adopt policies that prohibit protests in the courts. The illustrious University of Tennessee women’s soccer team knelt during the national anthem at 7. January, the day after the riots at the United States Capitol.

At sporting events, our student-athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all citizens of this state, many of whom find this form of protest offensive and disrespectful, the letter said.

pic.twitter.com/jAib29QypP

– Senator Paul Bailey (@PaulBaileyforTN) February 23, 2021

The state of Tennessee. Republican Scotty Campbell wrote in a tweet on February 18, which was quoted by local media: If it’s not out of disrespect and if they care about how many of their fans feel, they won’t do it during this song. A $250,000 a year salary and they can’t make sure the players respect our national anthem as Americans? Disappointing.

Neither Harshbarger nor Campbell responded to ESPN’s request for comment.

The pushing continued until Neck pulled away. The Pirates lost three of four games after breaking out of the knee controversy.

Carter issued a statement saying: I fully respect Coach Shea’s decision and have accepted his resignation. Coach Shai is part of our championship history at YSU, and I thank him and his family for their dedication to our university.

Shea’s departure has left the ETSU basketball program in disarray. The university is now looking for a new head coach, just one year after former head coach Steve Forbes left Wake Forest University after five consecutive seasons with at least 24 wins. Meanwhile, six ETSU players have announced their intentions to transfer, including at least two who entered the transfer portal after Shea’s departure.

Juniors Paul Smith, Truth Harris, Marcus Niblek and Sadaydrin Hall, junior Damari Monsanto and junior Ismael Valdez are in the transfer gate. Monsanto was one of the team’s leaders with 11.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Shay’s departure also put pressure on the university community as a whole. Several groups, including the NAACP, are planning more demonstrations in support of Shea and the ETSU players. We support Coach Shea and his efforts to find justice for his players, said Tavia Silmon, president of the Johnson City/Washington County NAACP, in a statement.

It’s sad that divisive politics has surfaced in sports that would normally bring the community together, and that a coach who rose through the ranks and really loved ETSU can’t stand in solidarity or kneel with young people and advise them on the real issues they will face long after their college years are over.

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