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Arkansas’ Jeff Long backs players’ kneeling during anthem

Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long - News Conference

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - APRIL 10: University of Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long speaks at a press conference announcing the termination of head football coach Bobby Petrino on April 10, 2012 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long says the university is backing six women’s basketball players who kneeled during the national anthem before an exhibition game Thursday.

Players Jordan Danberry, Tatiyana Smith, Kiara Williams, Jailyn Mason, Yasmeen Ratliff and Briunna Freeman locked arms and kneeled as a color guard presented the U.S and Arkansas flags.

After Arkansas’ 79-32 win over Oklahoma Baptist, Razorbacks coach Jimmy Dykes said he was “very, very proud” of the players for their protest. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports ( ) that hundreds of Arkansas fans, including some state lawmakers, criticized the protest on social media.

Danberry told the newspaper that the players, who are all black, kneeled to protest police shootings of African-Americans and other minorities.

Long said the university respects the students’ rights to express their opinions.