There was more to think about as Ohio State began the 2016-17 men’s basketball season than how to beat Navy in the season opener.
Nationally, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others were kneeling for the national anthem, and talk of such moves was filtering into college basketball. Locally, the fatal shooting of black 13-year-old Tyre King by a white Columbus police officer that September had an obvious effect on Jae’Sean Tate and his teammates.
Against the backdrop of growing racial tension across the country, Tate and the Buckeyes considered making a statement when their season got underway by kneeling for the national anthem. It was an option supported by coach Thad Matta and, ultimately, a course of action the players did not follow. When the national anthem played for the home exhibition game against Walsh, Tate intimated that he was going to kneel but stood, hand on heart, next to teammate C.J. Jackson.
It wasn’t because the players didn’t believe in standing up for themselves. It was because of the potential ramifications such a move could have, and it might be a different story today.
“Back in 2016, I was afraid to kneel because of the backlash I knew some fans, OSU alumni and people in the community would think or say,” Tate told The Dispatch on Tuesday. “I can honestly say at a point in my life I thought, ’That won’t be me,’ or, ‘That won’t happen to anyone I know.’ But look at what has happened since then — innocent African-Americans being murdered again and again, even some on video.”
It’s safe to say the conversation within the locker room would be different if Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and others were students now. Nobody from that roster remains in the program, and early indications are the conversation continues to evolve among the Buckeyes under coach Chris Holtmann.
Last week, current Ohio State player Seth Towns was detained by police for taking part in a peaceful protest in Columbus and then was filmed giving a speech the following day at another protest. Earlier this week, Kyle Young, Harrison Hookfin and multiple other Ohio State athletes took part in a “Kneel For Nine” demonstration near Ohio Stadium to protest the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“Justice and equality is the goal at hand, and I will do my best to speak up until we can all live in a world of peace and where everyone is considered equal,” Young wrote on Instagram.
Four years ago, Tate and Bates-Diop said that if the Buckeyes were going to protest or make any public demonstrations, they would do so as a team.
“It’s happening here in Columbus and it’s affecting us,” Tate said at his team’s media day in 2016 when asked about King’s death. “There’s some people on this team who have been personally affected by this, so it’s definitely an important matter.”
It was a group decision, too, to decide not to kneel. Looking back, Bates-Diop said this week that while the Buckeyes didn’t come close to kneeling in 2016, it was a topic that merited serious discussion.
“It’s such a bigger topic that I hope some real change comes this time,” Bates-Diop, a member of the Denver Nuggets, said this week.
After spending his second professional season in Australia, where a run at a championship was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tate is back in Pickerington while awaiting the next step in his career.
Given the chance to speak out, Tate said he won’t remain silent when it comes to issues of race.
“We didn’t ask for any of this,” he said. “This is how God made us. I am proud to be a black man, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. I will no longer be afraid to express that. I stand with the people who continue to raise the awareness and demand change the right way.”