Eli Capulouto and Mitch Barnhart respond of UK fan who criticized basketball program for kneeling during national anthem

Kentucky coaches knelt along with UK players during the national anthem at Florida (SEC Photo)

University of Kentucky fan Mark Howard sent letters to both University of Kentucky president Eli Capulouto and athletics director Mitch Barnhart asking them “who runs the UK basketball team” after the players and coaches knelt during the national anthem before the Florida game.

Howard felt Kentucky coach John Calipari should have told the players “no” when they asked to protest.

“I have been done with Cal since his ‘greatest day in the history of UK basketball’ comment at the NBA draft years ago. He may be considered a great recruiter but he does not know how to put a team together,” Howard said. “Only requirements are athletic, long and want to go to the NBA after one year. No others need apply.”

I asked Howard if he heard back from either Barnhart or Capulouto. He did — kind of.

I thought I would share those responses with you.

First one if from Jay Blanton, UK Chief Communications Officer, for Capulouto:

“Thank you for your questions and your concerns.

“Our players and coaches were utilizing their First Amendment rights to free speech and self-expression as part of concerns they have expressed about a number of societal issues. That right is one we all cherish.

“Our players also understand that while they have the right to express themselves, others share that right as well. Some people will be supportive. Many, though, will be deeply opposed to not only what they are expressing but how they have chosen to do so.

“In that respect, this is an important learning process for these young students, who are learning both the freedom and power that comes with being public figures as well as the responsibility and the attention that goes with it as well.

“I know that may not alleviate or address your concerns. But I hope it explains what our players have done and how we view it as part of an ongoing educational process for them. In the meantime, please know that I will share your concerns with the appropriate administrators as well.”

This one came from Shellee Hein for Barnhart:

“Thank you for taking the time to send an email regarding the team’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem. Your interest in our program is appreciated and your feedback is valued. The comments we have received have been both positive and negative.

“My faith is the most important thing in my life and it is my faith that ensures that I extend grace to those with whom I might not agree. While I will always stand for the National Anthem, I respect the First Amendment rights of those who choose to express themselves differently.”

The email also included the joint statement the president and athletics director put out after the protest supporting the players’ right to do so.

25 thoughts on “Eli Capulouto and Mitch Barnhart respond of UK fan who criticized basketball program for kneeling during national anthem

  1. TXCat

    I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. 99.875% of the team including the coaching staff, are persons of color. This has to be the reason they were kneeling (lack of diversity). A direct result of systemic racism at UK, and society in general.

  2. Kris smith

    Human life is more important than any flag. When this country repeatedly shows that racism is still very much alive. This is one image that made me KENTUCKY PROUD. Cal chose his soul over basketball. Keep your money , let em know in GEORGIA , if you’re more worried about a flag than your soul. The hatefulness your BLoodLines have sowed, will be rewarded in hell

    • Dave Hicks

      Cal knew it was wrong. He did take the knee but he also put his hand over his heart and was looking at the flag. It was nothing more than a recruiting tactic, to get another 5 star who’s head is all blown up that think they have nothing to prove.

    • Ken

      That flag is part of human life. Many have died for the freedom to enjoy this sport freely. Political views or stances have no place in collegian sport’s period.

      • Greg

        Keep politics out of sports.We watch sports to forget all the other crap that goes on in the world. All lives should matter no matter what color or race.

    • Ken

      That flag is part of human life. Many have died for the freedom to enjoy this sport freely. Political views or stances have no place in this area period. It opens doors for other beliefs to follow

  3. Vernon Walters

    UK had the number 1 recruiting class for 2020? I haven’t seen not even 1 number 1 recruiting player! Very little improvement in 12 games and Cal’s coaching is diminishing as well. UK has always been the top dog in the country for basketball. We as fans want to see wins and a national championship. But with one and done players they will never achieve that. Don’t see that happening this year. The kneeling in Florida put Cal and his team in the spotlight and I think it has distracted them on and off the court. There’s no place for that in college basketball and that’s on Cal. Coach to win games or be replaced by someone who will.

  4. Todd Price

    So very offensive for kids on a basketball court to disrespect the flag and national anthem.
    As a UK alumni and with family having served this country. I am personally offended and ashamed of my alma mater. The staff that supported this decision and idea should be relieved of their position.
    I support a individuals rights to protest as afforded by..protected by those who served and sacrifice for us ALL.
    However, the UK basketball team is not a individual with those same rights. The team and staff involved wearing UK blue have disrespected
    So many in the state they were charged with representing. I will publicly say I wish the best for each of the kids on the team and their coaches because I will never support UK athletics or any university program (of which I have been) ever again. This is a heartbreaking day .

    • Kris Smith

      I am proud the youth who make up these programs recognize the social injustices of the world we live in. Disrespect is the constitution saying a human being is 3/5 of a person. I’m American born, the hypocrisy of this country is what’s shameful. These comments come from the same place as deep rooted racist bloodlines. As we move forward in our country with leadership. These young men will always remember the gutless bigots they play for. This was the best move Cal could have ever made. Showing he truly cares. Is more important than the game of basketball or any other game. To all who say your christian but regard the flag more symbolic than the living word of christ. Remember your choice when you’re dying. To all the bloodlines who were part of the systematic racism, you will answer on your death bed. KENTUCKY PROUD, AMERICAN BORN

  5. paul Mitchell

    Thank You Vaught Views for showing letters sent to Barnhart and Capulouto concerning the players kneeling during National Anthem. I too am a "Christian" and was deeply upset that the Kentucky players knelt during the National Anthem. I too have sent e-mails to Barnhart and Capulouto the past several years on other Athletic questions i had. They too did not respond or responded in a negative way. They both have taken on the same message stated by former A.D. C.M. Newton who said "If you don’t like the way we are doing things–Go Root for another Team". Which is a slap in the face FOR ALL UK FANS EVERYWHERE….Capulouto is around 70 years old… Barnhart around 60 years old. They both have gone past their expiration date at UK and need to go QUICKLY……

    • Larry Vaught Post author

      Glad to try and help Paul. sorry they did not respond to you. Even if they disagree with what you said, no reason not to respond. I do not like it was administrators ignore fans that way but yet have no trouble asking for donations, etc.

  6. LarryPup

    The above picture makes me sick at my stomach. This kneeling decision more than anything else will be the undoing of John Calipari as UK’s basketball coach. This team disgraced the program by their actions, and on the road for many more to see too. This is Kentucky!!! Tell me, what did that kneel down on our flag accomplish but bring in more division? Many UK fans will never forget nor accept the BS responses received from the UK big shots. Like I said before, I will move on until Calpari is shown the door. I hope they eventually hire a real American patriot who respects our nation’s flag. A coach who can put UK basketball first over NBA draft choices. One who will play the athletes on the team that earn it the old fashion way; with hard work and production. I have been a Calipari fan, but not anymore.

    • Kris smith

      This team showed what it takes to have integrity. What should make you sick is why they had to do this. Sad you say your christian but this image of soladarity bothers you. Cal did something to keep him on the right side of GOD. He cared about humanity, more than basketball. I laugh thinking about how many christians will not enter heaven, because of the hate they CHOSE on earth. I laugh because if you think you can be vile all your days on earth and then die and think you’ll be good. It’s super funny. 2021 , these comments tell me KENTUCKY FAN base is made up of demons who keep saying their christian. Your actions are who you are. The action of hatefulness is in every comment on this post. PROUD THEY KNOW THEIR MORE THAN BASKETBALL PLAYERS. To know that it didn’t make you uncomfortable to see the insurgent ingnorance, But this is why we will keep on kneeling

      • LarryPup

        Really Kris? We are Christians because we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is in His shed blood at Calvary that washes away the sin stains of everyone who accepts His free pardon, John 3:16. He will be the true and righteous judge not you or me. He alone knows our hearts. I stand for the flag because of what it represents. Like all the men who have given their lives, both black and white, and others their limbs and life’s blood, for the freedoms we cherish in this land. This group of players have the right to kneel, yes! But "WE " have the right to object to their kneeling, so get over it. As for Calipari, in his latest decision to kneel, he showed his true colors. Let’s cut to the chase here, all lives matter every minute of every day, black, white, and everything in between. There is suppression being forced on all races and nationalities world wide. That said, name me a country where there is more opportunity for all men than right here in America. I find it hard to feel real sorry for a bunch of pampered athletes who are getting so much given to them free of charge to play a sport they love, and their Coach who is being paid millions to win basketball games and not make political statements. To also set a good example for his players. Tell me, who is the adult in the room? Again, what did they accomplish by kneeling during the national anthem but appease all you left wing American haters of the flag that many of us wore the uniform to defend.

  7. Mark Howard

    And my response to President Capilouto:

    President Capilouto,

    Yesterday’s game was encouraging until I read that this incident occurred. Are there any plans for you, AD Barnhardt, or both to speak to Coach Calipari about this embarrassment? I am not an alumnus, having graduated from Eastern Kentucky University, but have followed the Cats since the Issel/Pratt led team. In the early 70’s, I would listen to Cawood Ledford on the radio and keep my own scorebook. I have also followed the football program with equal fervor. Living in Georgia, I attend the GA and Auburn games, the SEC tournament, and the occasional games at Rupp. I have UK license plates, wardrobe, and other UK items in my home. My parents, siblings, wife, and son follow and root for the Big Blue. We live in Georgia and take a lot of ribbing. Please let me know how I should respond when asked about this kneeling by my Georgia friends! Rest assured, I am not going to condone it.

    As a result, I will not be attending any more games while Calipari is the coach. Even if we go undefeated the rest of the season and win the championship, I will be an extremely disappointed follower. My main question is who is in charge of the men’s basketball program? While I think the answer should be Coach Calipari along with input from Mitch and yourself, I think reality indicates that it is the 18-22 year old players who actually run the program. Given the fact that up to 50% of this years team will probably only attend UK for 2 semesters, this alone is an embarrassment. According to reports, Calipari was told that the players wanted to do this and not only did he approve but joined them in this abomination. I am so disgusted with this action, so mad and embarrassed that I can barely control my emotions as I write this email.

    I do not expect a response but would appreciate your consideration of my concern.

    Mark Howard

      • Cats79

        Weather it’s right or wrong I think it’s time to move on about this debate. We can’t keep beating each other up over what happen. There’s more important things to worry as your health,and family well being. God Bless to all!!

        • Larry Vaught Post author

          Cats79 this is such a sensitive subject for so many that not sure moving on is going to happen. And I can understand those who do want to move on as well as those who do not

  8. B. Baker

    I sent an email to both President and AD as well and I guess they sent a standard email to everyone that complained. Because I received back the same email from both, so they really were not concerned about our thoughts. Seems like Cal is digging himself deeper in a hole after every games comment where he is really not concerned about winning games. Look at all the records that have been broken by UK basketball this season and they are not positive records.

    • Mark Howard

      Yes, it was a form letter. Below is my response back to Shellee:

      I am a Christian also and believe in extending grace. However, if I were to step on most campuses today and try to deliver a pro flag/national anthem message,

      I would probably be escorted rather quickly from the podium. First amendment rights are not extended to all but only those who have been approved.

      Also, as a Christian, I believe in right and wrong. Right is to be applauded and wrong is to be punished. But I guess this does not apply to privileged athletes! Such hypocrisy! The UK administration can hide behind their politically correct statements but that is not going to change the fact that kneeling before the anthem and our flag will always be wrong! UK will no longer get my money and I know many fans and alumni who have the same mindset. If players/students want to protest there are other venues they can pursue. I live in Georgia and am getting asked daily how I could support UK athletics given this embarrassing display. Could you provide me an answer because at this point I am at a loss for words?

      I do appreciate your response as I really did not expect to receive one.

      Mark Howard


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