LSU: State legislators threatened college funding if players protested | State Politics

A Washington Post column about Republican attitudes toward colleges on Friday includes an anecdote about Louisiana state legislators allegedly threatening funding for LSU if any player took part in the “take a knee” protests during the national anthem.

LSU players aren’t on the field during the “Star Spangled Banner,” and it’s unclear who was among the “group of Louisiana legislators” who made the threat that LSU President F. King Alexander described in the column.

A university spokesman said the threat came in a phone call but wouldn’t name the legislators involved.

In the column, which ran under the headline “Why do so many Republicans hate college?,” writer Catherine Rampell describes a dinner in New York last month that “about a dozen” college presidents attended. Rampell introduces the LSU anecdote as an example of “showdowns with peacocking, publicity-stunting politicians.”

She writes: “A group of Louisiana legislators recently threatened to further slash public higher-ed appropriations — already down 43 percent per student since 2008 — if any student football players took a knee during the national anthem, according to Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander. (The threat was withdrawn after Alexander reminded lawmakers that LSU players traditionally remain in the locker room during the anthem.)”

No other details are offered in the column. The state budget took effect July 1 — prior to the attention on the NFL’s “take a knee” protests and before LSU’s football season began. Lawmakers haven’t yet begun formal work for the upcoming budget cycle, which includes a looming $1 billion shortfall that could threaten higher education funding.

“I can confirm the phone call occurred, but we won’t name the person, as that was an unfortunate comment that is better left in the past. We hope that in the future, LSU’s state appropriations will be tied to its performance in the classrooms and laboratories and its economic contributions to our state,” Jason Droddy, interim Vice President of communications, said in an email Friday night.

While several lawmakers this fall publicly questioned the subsidies that the state gives to the New Orleans Saints professional football team after players knelt during the anthem, such a threat hasn’t previously been reported on the college level.

House Republican Caucus Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, told The Advocate on Friday that he had not heard about the incident described in the Washington Post column. 

NFL players across the country this season have taken part in “take a knee” protests against racism as the “Star Spangled Banner” played before games. Critics of the movement have called it disrespectful to the flag and the military.

Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, said in September that the state should reconsider the lucrative incentives that it pays to keep the NFL franchise in New Orleans after 10 Saints players sat on the bench during the national anthem before a game at Carolina.

“If it’s a state-subsidized sporting event, that’s not the place to protest,” Havard told The Advocate at the time, though he specifically spoke in the context of the Saints after the protest by the pro players. LSU has one of the few self-sustaining athletics programs in the country that doesn’t receive state subsidies.

LSU running back Derrius Guice, through his Twitter account, posted about the protests that week, suggesting he would sit or kneel during the anthem. As college players are normally not present on the field during the anthem, nothing came of Guice’s taunt.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.