DURHAM — When the Duke Blue Devils took the court, their shirts didn’t feature the gothic D or any blue.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been known to prohibit the team from wearing anything representing the school when he’s not satisfied with their effort, but this was the opening exhibition game of the season.
The team had an important message to deliver, so the players warmed up for the 93-60 win over Northwest Missouri State wearing black T-shirts with the word EQUALITY written in white across the chest.
Around the country, players in all sports have taken the national anthem as an opportunity to make a statement about the way minorities are treated, most notably by kneeling as the song is played.
Krzyzewski, a graduate of West Point and a former member of the U.S. Army, has spoken in the past about showing respect for the flag and the anthem. Prior to the 2016 Olympics, he played the mens’ national team a video of Marvin Gaye singing the anthem prior to the 1983 NBA All Star Game.
“Here’s our fight song,” he told the team, “and our fight song will be played before every game, and your hand will be over your heart and you’ll feel very proud. And on Aug. 21 our fight song will be played twice. The second time, gold medals will be around your neck and our flag will be raised above all others.”
Rather than imposing his own feelings on the team, he had the players decide how best to handle the anthem.
“He brought it to our attention,” said freshman Wendell Carter Jr. “Everybody shared how they felt about the situation, and we all made a plan together.”
Each time the anthem is played, Krzyzewski stands, eyes on the flag, hand over his heart.
“There are a lot of mixed messages about standing before the game,” he said. “All of our guys — all our guys — want to stand. Not everybody wants to put their hand over their heart, and they don’t have to do that. Some guys put their heads down, because they’re praying. Some people put their hands on the side or in the back.”
While the team wanted to stand, they also didn’t want to ignore the message of the protests.
“We had a discussion, as a team, about what’s been going on around the country,” team captain Grayson Allen said. “We decided, as a team, that we would stand and wear the equality shirts.”
They also made a team decision about the shirts’ meaning.
“It means …” Carter started. He then turned and began rummaging through his locker.
Just when it seemed that he may be doing the equivalent of walking away from the podium instead of answering the question, he found what he was looking for in a drawer.
“It means,” he said, and began to read from a preprinted sign. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“Does that sound familiar?” Krzyzewski asked during his press conference. “It’s part of the Pledge of Allegiance, and it’s basically what our program and our school is about. That’s what we want our country to be.”
Each player was given a sign with the final words of the Pledge, to keep in their locker.
“We thought that as a team, that would be our statement — that we’re standing together for equality, liberty and justice for all,” Allen said.
“That’s why we stand in reverence to the men and women who served our country, who have protected those rights,” Krzyzewski said, “but also for every race, every gender, every religion. That’s what our country is about, and that’s what we said. We wanted to initially let everyone know, when we stand, that’s what we stand for.”
Now that the players have the shirts, it appears that the decision on when to wear them for the anthem will be an individual one.
“We don’t have to wear it all the time, but tonight we did because it was the first time that this group stood together,” Krzyzewski said.
“That’s every game,” said Carter.