EMAILS: ECU administrators knew of possible band protest beforehand

Published: Oct. 28, 2016 at 4:13 PM EDT
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East Carolina University administrators knew the day before that some members of the Marching Pirates were planning a protest during the UCF game on October 1st.

Nineteen members of the university's band took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, sparking a heated controversy over free speech and patriotism.

Earlier this month, WITN News requested emails from top university officials as part of a public records request. Those emails, some of which were redacted, came to us Friday afternoon.

WITN requested the emails after our questions about the university having any prior knowledge of the band protest went unanswered.

In one email at 10:00 a.m. the day before the game, the university's chief communications officer said, "It is probable we will have a silent protest of some kind by at least 20 Marching Pirates at Saturday's game during the national anthem."

Mary Schulken went onto say they expected it to be respectful and that a statement had already been prepared by the chancellor. Copied on the email to her staff was the university's interim police chief and ECU's sports information officer.

The next morning, Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy emailed Chancellor Cecil Staton. "Still a protest but looks like 10-15 students," said Hardy in the email. "They have not decided what they will do but were leaning to just not playing."

WITN's Lynnette Taylor spoke with Staton at ECU's Alumni Awards Dinner about the e-mail's who said, "I think first of all that's probably a misreading of some of those emails. We often hear of things that may potentially happen on campus with out a lot of specifics. And, so without specificity, we try to do our best to help our students. You know they have their voices and they are looking for ways to express them and we want to always make sure that ends up being as positive as it can be for them. I'm very proud of the way this community embraces our students, and I think pirate nation is going to be fine, and I think our band is going to be fine. I'm proud of the marching pirates, they do a great job in representing us. They're a very special part about our game and our festivities, and I think they're going to be fine."

Earlier Friday, WITN asked Staton whether the university knew about the possible protest beforehand. "I don't know what emails you have but if you're not going to show them to me, I'm not going to comment on that."

Included in the hundreds of emails were at least two from band members who expressed safety concerns the day before the protest. "I feel like my safety is at risk," wrote one member to the band director. "I'm sure you are just as stressed about this as I am but I honestly don't know what to do in this situation."

After the protest, some fans booed at the members, items were thrown on the field at them, and police escorted the band from the stadium before the game ended.

Tomorrow's game against the University of Connecticut will be the first home game since the band protest.

The chancellor says he doesn't expect any problems. "I don't anticipate any issues with our band," said Staton. "We have a wonderful band, we're very proud of the Marching Pirates, they're a great part of our tradition and so I think tomorrow's going to be a great day for ECU...the football team, hopefully, as well as the Marching Pirates"