LANSING — A new Lansing Catholic policy prohibiting protests during the national anthem had nothing to do with a basketball player’s being benched Tuesday night during a game at Okemos High School, his coach said Wednesday. 

Kabbash Richards, a junior, sat out the entire game because he missed the team bus and violated a longstanding team rule that requires players to be ready for the bus at least 15 minutes before it leaves, said Eric Trojanowicz, his coach. 

Richards, who played football last fall, was one of four players who knelt during the anthem and had playing time reduced as a result. He did not kneel during the national anthem before Tuesday’s basketball game.

Instead, Richards decided before tip-off against the Chieftains to not face the American flag during the anthem. 

“It was some type of protest,” Trojanowicz said Wednesday morning of Richards’ gesture. “That’s the way I took it. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it, but I will do that at my earliest convenience.” 

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Messages left Wednesday with Richards and Negla Richards, his mother, weren’t returned. It’s unclear why Kabbash Richards missed the team bus.

Trojanowicz said Wednesday he didn’t know and wasn’t told by his player why he missed the bus and ended up getting a ride to the game. 

In its first game of the season, Lansing Catholic lost Tuesday to Okemos 71-44. 

Richards’ benching by Trojanowicz came just hours after school officials emailed a letter to parents that explains a new school policy that prohibits kneeling by student-athletes during the playing of the anthem. 

Tom Maloney, Lansing Catholic’s president, and two other school officials said in the letter sent Tuesday to parents that those who kneel during the anthem at a game during the winter sports season won’t be able to participate in it. 

If the school is aware of a student-athlete’s plans to kneel in advance, they “will not dress or accompany the team for the game,” the letter said. 

“We will continue to dialogue with the student and their parents and take appropriate actions moving forward, up to and including dismissal from the team,” the letter reads. 

Trojanowicz said his players were aware of the school’s new policy before the letter from officials was sent to parents. 

Messages left Wednesday with Maloney, the school’s president, weren’t returned. 

In a voicemail left Tuesday night with the State Journal, Maloney referred to the letter and its description of the new policy.

“I don’t know if I have any other comments to add other than the letter we put out,” Maloney said.

Rovonya Velasquez, the parent of a Lansing Catholic student, attended Tuesday’s game and said Richards was punished unfairly because he had knelt during the anthem at football games. 

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” said Velasquez, referring to the basketball game, “and they took it out on him again.” 

Velasquez’s son, senior Roje Williams, also was one of four football players who knelt at their team’s games and were disciplined for it.

The other two players, Michael Lynn III and Matthew Abdullah – both seniors – decided to transfer after the football season to Lansing Sexton and Holt high schools. 

Trojanowicz said he’s hopeful Richards, his basketball teammates and the entire coaching staff can be on the same page this season and work together to make sure there are no distractions. 

“The last thing you want is a team that’s divided because you won’t have success,” Trojanowicz said.

The team, according to Trojanowicz, agreed to create a shirt to be worn by all players as a sign of unity. The shirt, according to the school’s letter to parents, has the words “Respect. Fortitude. Unity” on the front and the word “Family” written on the back.

Eric Lacy is a reporter for the Lansing State Journal. Contact him at 517-377-1206 or elacy@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricLacy.

 

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