'Stand for the flag – or don't play', US college tells its athletes
San Francisco 49ers Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel in protest. Source: Reuters/USA Today Sports

Athletes must stand for the United States flag or risk not playing the game at College of the Ozarks (C of O), Missouri.

C of O, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school, are strict on their “no pledge, no play rule.

All Ozark Bobcats and coaches, and those of the opposing team, must stand for the national anthem or the game will not commence.

The decision was sparked by last year’s protests during the 2016 National Football League (NFL) season where Colin Kaepernick began dropping to one knee during the national anthem.

Kaepernick, while now a free-agent without a team, was playing for the San Francisco 49ers at the time. His protest was due to the “systemic oppression against people of color [and] police brutality”. Kaepernick refused to show respect to what he considered a flawed government.

Protests have continued in the NFL this season, prompting US President Donald Trump to demand that players who fail to stand for the anthem get sacked by their teams.

A recent CNN poll found that Americans are split on whether refusing to stand is the right way to express their opinions or not.

“Overall, 49 percent say the protesting players are doing the wrong thing to express their political opinion when they kneel during the national anthem, while 43 percent say it’s the right thing.”

It is undeniable that race plays a huge part in the divide, with 59 percent of white people claiming the players are doing the wrong thing. In contrast, 82 percent of black people say it is the right thing to do.

Age and political stance were also contributing factors with nine in 10 Republicans believing it to be wrong and younger Americans believing it to be right.

The C of O website states they want to develop citizens who are “patriotic”.

It is no surprise, therefore, that standing for the flag is at the forefront of their concerns.

The college has revised all contracts with competing teams across all sports to include the new rule.

President of the college, Jerry C Davis, claimed that he would rather “forfeit a game than forfeit our honor”. Although he admits that they are yet to encounter any problems with protesting.

“We want to make it clear that we are not going to participate in a game where we think disrespect for the national anthem or the flag is being displayed,” Davis told The Kansas City Star.

“We wanted to be clear about our expectations. We’re trying to avoid trouble, not look for it.”

“C of O is unique among higher education institutions in America: no tuition is charged, all students work on campus, debt is openly discouraged, and no federal, state or private loans are made,” Davis said on the college website.

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