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Women’s basketball shot-clock operator protests the Razorback protest

Martha Neal took this selfie from the best seat in the gym ~ her seat at the shot clock.

For the first time in a quarter century’s worth of Razorback women’s basketball games, Martha Neal chose not to sit in her seat at the scoring table last Friday morning.

It is the best seat in the house, she says, but her heart wouldn’t allow her to sit there for the first game of the season when the Razorback women put the hurt on Sam Houston State to the tune of 71-39.

Not for the second game, either, or for the third. Because in the first game, an exhibition, six Razorbacks chose to take a knee during the national anthem. Specifically, the six players, including one starter, refused to stand during the national anthem.

Because those six players chose to kneel, Ms. Neal chose to quit a moonlighting job that she has loved and worked for all of her adult life.

Her resignation was her protest of a protest.

Her beef, however, really isn’t with the players but with the coach and the athletic director who knew about the women’s plans in advance and allowed the protest, which she noted in her letter of resignation to Jeri Thorpe, associate media relations director for women’s basketball:

Jeri,

As a result of last night’s activity at the women’s basketball game and the response by the University, I am letting you know that I will not be continuing with this year’s schedule as assigned. My apologies for the inconvenience this poses on your behalf, but it just means that much.

Sincerely,

Martha Neal

Ms. Thorpe confirmed to me that Ms. Neal had resigned.

After the game, Coach Dykes confirmed to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that leadership discussed the planned protest with the players ahead of time.

The Razorback Half Dozen were following a trend that started at the beginning of the NFL season late in August when then-bench-warming quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem before his San Francisco 49ers fell to the Green Bay Packers 21-10.  He was, he said, protesting oppression of minority citizens.

(Mr. Kaepernick, who earned back his starting position, also took a knee on the presidential election ~ he didn’t vote. “I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote,” Mr. Kaepernick told reporters on Sunday after the 49ers lost to the Arizona Cardinals, his team’s eighth straight loss. That would be eight games out of nine.)

After the Razorback women trounced Oklahoma Baptist University in an exhibition game on November 3, Jordan Danberry explained to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette why she and her teammates decided to kneel.

“Recently you all know that there’s been a lot of killings from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities,” said Ms. Danberry, as quoted in that newspaper. “Me and my teammates took a kneel today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes, we have a platform to do that.”

Ms. Neal loves the Razorbacks. She attended the University of Arkansas, and she was manager of the women’s Razorback basketball team all four years.

She started her career at the shot clock as a freshman. In those days, she earned $20 a night cleaning the stands in Barnhill Arena after the games. “It made for a late night when it was a week night,” she wrote on her Facebook page, “but not being on athletic scholarship at the time … I didn’t mind the work. I eventually earned my way into a rather inconsistent athletic scholarship.”

As a sophomore, she earned tuition and books. By her junior year, she was, as she wrote, “living ‘high on the Hog,’ having earned a ‘full ride:’ books, tuition, room & board.”

The full ride was reduced to tuition and books her senior year.

Except for two years she took off to care for her mother, and a year she lived in California, she has been running the thirty-second shot clock ever since.

“Whenever the clock is live, and the ball is in play, I am in the game,” she told me in a telephone interview.

On the night of the protest, as she faced the American flag during the national anthem before the game, the woman who runs the scoreboard elbowed her and nodded in the direction of the players on the court.

“I took a brief glance then went right back to the flag,” she said. “It didn’t take me long to understand what was going on.”

The image of the protest percolated throughout the game, and at home that night, she talked to a couple of friends. “I sought wise counsel,” she said.

The next morning, before she went to her job teaching kindergarten through fourth-grade physical education, she made up her mind.

“I composed an email and sent it to the ones I was responsible to and expressed my thoughts,” she said. “I told them I would not be able to continue in my position based on the protest, and based on the response of the administrators.

“After 29 years,” she said, and as she said in her note to Ms. Thorpe: “It just means that much.”

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Jay Grelen

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