Why Virginia Tech’s coach brought Hokies face-to-face with military veterans

Posted at 10:02 AM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 06:34:54-05

[Editor’s Note: The video was recorded in the Fall and originally posted on Veterans Day. Coach Williams never implied anyone on his current team, or Virginia Tech in general, ever disrespected the anthem. The video recently went viral on Facebook]

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams wants to make sure his players stand at attention while the National Anthem played prior to basketball games. That is why Coach Williams gathered his players and had them stand, face-to-face, with men and women who served this country in the armed forces.

Buzz Williams and Virginia Tech

“These guys, when they were you age, interrupted their life, they paused their education, they changed their career, and they gave their life for those chairs,” Coach Williams said in the video recorded last fall. “So when the Anthem is played, we’re going to stand like grown men and we’re going to honor men like this, that gave their life, so we can have a chair to sit in.”

Buzz Williams and Virginia Tech 02

Coach Williams told his players they would stand at attention while the anthem played.

“To see a coach take on the responsibility of showing the student-athletes the importance of the values of the country and the people that have served this country is very admirable,” Sandy Smith, a Marine Corps veteran and an associate AD at Virginia Tech, told in November. “I’d like to thank Coach Williams personally because I think he’s done an excellent job of instilling leadership and camaraderie to the student athletes. It was appreciated by everyone I spoke with today.”

Coach Williams’ respect for the National Anthem is not new. In 2014, he blogged about the importance of showing respect for the anthem:

In a little more than a month, the basketball season will start. Up to this point through what we call “Tech Talks” we have covered multiple topics that I feel our players should know about. We’ve touched on a lot of topics such as investing in yourself, money management, how difficult it is to get drafted in the NBA, and how and why we think a certain way. I wanted to hone in on things I believe in, things I feel that they as young men should know more about. Showing up and playing ball for four years at Virginia Tech isn’t enough in our program. These talks fuel a deep burning desire within me. They are something that I am deeply passionate about and take great pride in. I wanted to share this with the team. I waited until we were away at training camp to discuss this month’s topic, our national anthem. How many times do we stand up and just go through the national anthem and don’t pay it any real attention? We stand, we sing, we sit, we watch, we play.

I wanted the players to understand how fortunate they were to be able to play this great game, to earn a scholarship, and to have people pay money to watch them play. Everything comes at a cost and each and every one of us is fortunate that someone else, in someway, is sacrificing something so we can go about our every day lives. We wake up everyday, fortunate enough to drive to work, fortunate enough to call our family anytime we want, fortunate enough to go grab lunch and a cup of coffee, all the while someone else is protecting our freedom. Even if things aren’t going our way, we are still lucky enough to have the opportunity to bounce back. Somewhere else in the world, there is a soldier not able to do the same things that we so casually take for granted. With that said, after warm ups, we stand in a straight line, put our hand over our heart, sing our national anthem, and then toss the ball up and play. During this time, do we ever really listen to the words of our anthem or are we tuning it out in anticipation of the start of the game? “Coach it’s just the anthem, they play it every game…”

Do you know how many times our national anthem was played in the 4 major sports leagues last year?

Total regular season games:

NFL – 256

NBA – 1,230

NHL – 1,230

MLB – 2,430

That’s over 5,000 times it is sung, just at the professional level at regular season games…forget minor leagues…forget college…forget all the high schools across the country. But do we know WHY we sing it? Do we know WHY it is important? Do we know WHY there are over 1.4 million active members of the military protecting us on the frontline? Do we know how much was done for us so we can be in a gym, playing a game in front of thousands of people, with even thousands more…. sometimes millions more watching us —- do we know WHY?

The average age of a newly enlisted soldier in the army is around 20.9 years old. That is the age of our sophomore/junior players in our program. I want my players to know that someone their age is actively fighting for them so they can pursue their dreams…so I can be here doing what I love…and so my children are able to go to school and follow their dreams. So for two minutes, while we honor those that are far away from their families to fight for us and protect everything that our country is built upon, we are able to recognize them and thank them for everything they have done. It is more than just knowing the lyrics. Our players take great pride in wearing a Virginia Tech uniform, what it stands for, and what our motto here at the University is, “Ut Prosim,” which translates to “That I may serve.” They know somewhere out there, someone their age is wearing a different type of uniform, but following the same motto to protect our great country.

So at training camp, we printed out the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner. We put together this video with arguably one of the best live performances in the history of this song and added scenes that we all could emotionally connect with. Together we read it aloud over and over until everyone could recite it. Every time I hear this song I get choked up. I think to myself about how a country boy from a rural, American town in Texas gets paid to coach college basketball, and just how lucky I am. Every facet of my life has changed because of this game. Every game day when they play our national anthem, I stand up, I look up to the flag, put my hand over my heart and sing because to me, it is more than just lyrics.

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