University of Kentucky brass backed athletes’ right to protest on Monday after a local sheriff burned Wildcats gear to express his displeasure with the men’s basketball program.
Laurel County Sheriff John Root lit Kentucky T-shirts on fire alongside County Jailer Jamie Mosley on Sunday in a since-deleted Facebook post that followed up a demand that head coach John Calipari be fired. Laurel County sits near the Tennessee border and has a population of roughly 60,000 people.
Why is sheriff mad?
Root was upset that Wildcats players and coaches, including Calipari, took a knee during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s win over Florida.
The Kentucky protest was in response to the mob of supporters of President Donald Trump who invaded the U.S. Capitol last week in order to subvert the verification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November election.
UK brass respond
Kentucky president Eli Capilouto and athletic director Mitch Barnhart released a joint statement to ESPN Monday supporting the school’s athletes in light of the criticism.
“A value we all hold dear in our country is the right of free speech and self-expression,” the statement reads. “That right for young students such as these is important, too, as they learn, grow, and find out who they are and what they believe.
“We won't always agree on every issue. However, we hope to agree about the right of self-expression, which is so fundamental to who we are as an institution of higher learning. We live in a polarized and deeply divided country. Our hope — and that of our players and our coaches — is to find ways to bridge divides and unify.
Calipari addressed the decision to kneel earlier Monday on his radio show.
"It was all the images that they saw, and they wanted to have their voice heard, and I said, well, ‘Tell me what it's about,” he said, per ESPN. “They talked to me about it. Then they said, ‘We'd like you to kneel with us,’ which I did.
“I held my heart but I did kneel with them because I support the guys. But it wasn't about military. Six of these players come from military families.”
Root started his campaign Saturday night while calling for Calipari’s job in a Facebook post.
“I honestly can’t believe a team from Kentucky ( the Hillbilly State ) took a knee to our National Anthem with the American flag displayed!” Root wrote. ... “The UK apparel and memorabilia is gone tomorrow and until we get a real man to lead the cats and a real team you will not see me back in no UK junk and if you do just come right up and hit me square in the mouth!!!!”
Court: Defund UK
The Knox County Fiscal Court also staged a protest of the basketball team, signing a unanimous resolution demanding that taxpayer funds allocated to the university be used elsewhere.
“The University of Kentucky receives millions and millions of dollars every year of hardworking Kentucky taxpayers’ money,” Judge Executive Mike Mitchell told the Times-Tribune. “I think they need to be held accountable for their actions if they can’t manage it no better than that.”
Knox County has a population of around 30,000 people and also sits near the Tennessee border.
More from Yahoo Sports: