Eastern Tennessee basketball coach Jason Shay resigned from his post late last month after his first season leading the program.
Now, less than two weeks later, at least one ETSU player is speaking out.
The resignation, guard Jordan Coffin claimed in a powerful piece for The Players Tribune, wasn’t a resignation at all.
It was due to the fact that Shay supported his team when they kneeled in protest during the national anthem — something that, despite repeated clarification from athletes and even military members, has nothing to do with disrespecting the armed forces.
“This past season, me and my teammates on the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team decided that we were going to kneel during the national anthem. We wanted to continue to shine some light on racial injustice and police brutality in this country,” Coffin wrote in The Players’ Tribune.
“Our head coach, Jason Shay, fully supported our decision and had our backs every step of the way. Then, last week, after our season ended, Coach Shay abruptly 'resigned.'
“And, yeah, you better believe those quote marks are intentional.”
State Senators slam ETSU
Shortly after the team kneeled in protest in February, a group of Republican State Senators slammed the team’s move — like countless other lawmakers across the country have done despite the common peaceful protest.
State Sen. Jon Lundber said the protest was like raising a middle finger to the flag, and a group of them sent a letter to every president and chancellor at all public colleges and universities in the state urging them to ban all athletes from protesting during the anthem.
Others in the city, Coffin wrote, would verbally accost players both in person and on social media.
Me and my teammates are coming out of our gym after practice and this guy pulls up and jumps out of his car. A second later, he’s yelling at us.
'You guys are a disgrace!'
He didn’t step to us like he wanted to fight or anything, but it wasn’t just something in passing where he rolled down his window and yelled and kept it moving.
'You’re a disgrace to this university! How dare you disrespect the American flag? I hope this program tanks. You don’t deserve anything better.'
We didn’t engage with him, and when he left we all just walked to our cars and drove off. But it had us shook. And looking back on it now, that’s probably when we should’ve known things were going to get bad.
Still, Shay was behind his team. He left the decision to protest completely up to his players, Coffin said.
“No one knows the sacrifice, the fear, the pain, the anxiety, the loss that they’ve experienced fighting for our country’s freedom and rights,” Shay said in February about members of the United States military branches. “But many of us don’t know the same sacrifice, fear, pain, and loss that people of color have had to endure over 400 years.”
The legislators not only missed the point of their protesting completely, Coffin said, but also didn’t even attempt to reach out to the team.
“They did that without coming and talking to us, or asking us about why we felt it was important to protest before our games. They just wanted to stop us,” Coffin wrote in The Players’ Tribune.
“By that point, the university was hearing it from all over the place. And I understand that pressure like that can really have an impact. It can have consequences. But it didn’t have to go like this. It really, really didn’t.”
Shay 'resigned' from his post
Shay, after five seasons with the program as an assistant before being promoted, resigned after deciding it was “in the best interest of myself, my family and the ETSU men's basketball program to no longer continue as the head basketball coach."
Despite Coffin and others’ claims, ETSU insisted that the resignation wasn’t related at all to the protesting and controversy that followed.
"ETSU did not fire Coach Shay nor force Coach Shay to resign," athletic director Scott Carter said in a statement, via ESPN. "As outlined in the terms of the separation agreement, in Coach Shay's statement and in my previous statement, Coach Shay decided to resign."
Shay, Coffin said, “was heartbroken."
We knew things had gotten pretty bad, and that some people were angry about us kneeling, but we honestly never saw this coming ... Then, at that meeting, he stands up in front of the team with this super sad face, this dejected, defeated look, and it’s like ...
'Please don’t be upset or feel bad, but I wanted to bring you all together in person to let you know I’m going to be resigning as head coach.'
We were all shocked. We know the passion that Coach Shay has for basketball, and for just flat-out helping players grow as individuals and as men. It didn’t add up.
Demonstrators rally for Shay outside of Honda dealership
Weeks after his resignation, Johnson City residents are still extremely upset.
On Friday, several protesters — and counter-protesters — rallied outside of the Johnson City Honda dealership in town in support of Shay.
The dealership has historically offered vehicles to all ETSU coaches through a loan program each season, though dealership owner Joe Trujillo reclaimed Shay’s and his assistants’ cars after he stood by their decision to kneel during the anthem, according to WBIR.
“No matter how many times we told everyone that we weren’t protesting the flag or looking to disrespect anyone, it just seemed like some people had their own agenda and didn’t want to hear it,” Coffin Coffin wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “So many people really did assume the worst about us.”
Coffin ended his piece with a strong message both to Shay, and to any other program across the country looking for a new coach.
I really do just want him to know that the whole team loves and supports him and his family to the fullest. It’s about more than basketball now. It’s so much bigger than that. I mean, if somebody lays their job down and puts their livelihood on the line for you, it really shows what type of man he is.
I am proud to have played for Coach Shay, that’s for sure.
And look, if you’re a university president or an AD reading this, do me a favor. If your school is in the market for an incredible person to lead your basketball team … someone with all the coaching talent in the world, but also one of the most principled and honest and thoughtful people you’ll ever meet, do everyone a favor and give Coach Shay a call.
I promise you won’t regret it.
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