Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said the university is backing six women's basketball players who kneeled during the national anthem before an exhibition game Thursday.
Players Jordan Danberry, Tatiyana Smith, Kiara Williams, Jailyn Mason, Yasmeen Ratliff and Briunna Freeman, who are all black, locked arms and kneeled as the anthem played and a color guard presented the U.S and Arkansas flags.
"Recently you all know that there's been a lot of killings from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities," Danberry told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Me and my teammates took a kneel today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes we have a platform to do that."
After Arkansas' 79-32 win over Oklahoma Baptist, Razorbacks coach Jimmy Dykes said he'd met with the players several times to discuss their plans to protest.
"They had very, very strong, well-informed, educated opinions based on their real life experiences, their real life emotions," Dykes said. "I am very, very proud of them."
Many Arkansas fans took to social media to express their dismay over the protest, and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson retweeted a post from a state lawmaker who called the players' protest disrespectful.
But Long, a former chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, defended the players' right to protest. He said the athletic department would stand behind the players' right to free speech.
"University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized," Long said in a statement. "We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation."