West Virginia State Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, sent a letter dated Sept. 20, 2020 to the presidents of West Virginia University, E. Gordon Gee, and Marshall University, Jerome Gilbert, expressing his disgust over recent occurrences of what Tarr describes as “hate speech”.
In the letter, made publicly available by MetroNews, Tarr says he finds it “disturbing” that publically funded universities such as WVU and Marshall “promote” “hate speech”. Tarr’s letter is in reference to some West Virginia University football student-athletes wearing black lives matter “BLM” stickers on their helmets this season and a professor at Marshall who made comments about supporters of Donald Trump and coronavirus.
Tarr calls for Gee and Gilbert to either return taxpayer money the universities receive or to use it for “a more honorable purpose” and to treat the schools as “flagships of the great State of West Virginia” and not “vehicles for anarchy or political propaganda”.
Tarr’s letter is co-signed by 16 other members of the state Senate majority caucus. However, the state Senators from WVU’s district, District 13, Bob Beach (D-Monongalia) and Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) did not sign the letter. The state senators from Marshall’s district, District 5, Robert Plymale (D-Wayne) and Michael Woelfel (D-Cabell) also did not sign the letter.
In response, West Virginia University and WVU Athletics released a joint statement on Monday saying that no state taxpayer dollars were spent on the helmet stickers and the use of the helmet stickers was optional for each student-athlete. The statement, in full, reads:
“West Virginia University and its athletics department must ensure a safe and equitable environment for our students and staff. We have an obligation to peacefully stand up against hatred, intolerance and racism. Our student-athletes and staff are united to bring about a positive and peaceful change to our great country. As Mountaineers, we would not have it any other way.
“It’s important for our fans to know that this helmet sticker is not advocating for any organization or any political stance, violence, rioting, looting or destruction. The sticker is a call for unity, safety and equality.
“No state taxpayer dollars were used relating to these stickers. It is also important to note that each individual student-athlete voluntarily chose to participate.
“We have student-athletes who want to bring an end to the social injustices using peaceful and positive ideas. Our student-athletes take great pride in representing West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia and are impressive in their maturity and caring attitude.”
The “BLM” helmet stickers were first shown by WVU junior defensive lineman Dante Stills on his Instagram earlier this month.