University of South Carolina Aiken officials said they are taking personnel action after head baseball coach Kenny Thomas' online comments regarding Black Lives Matter sparked some community backlash.
In a lengthy statement issued Tuesday, USC Aiken Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan said "appropriate personnel action" will be taken after Thomas left a comment on a photo of a Black Lives Matter sticker on a Clemson University football helmet, which he derided as "shameful."
"Words simply cannot express my disappointment of a publicly known university member who last night posted a remark on a personal social media page that seemed to be intolerant of the Black Lives Matter movement," Jordan's statement read. "His expression was a personal opinion and does not reflect the values of this university, Pacer athletics, or our community.
"The university is taking appropriate personnel action with this matter," she continued. "The posted remarks stand in sharp contrast with the work being done in offices across this university by men and women who are committed to diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equality."
The photo was one of several shared on social media platforms by Clemson Football, which depicted helmets with various stickers with words like "love" and "equality." Two of the photos, including one that Thomas commented on, had Black Lives Matter stickers on the helmets.
"It is 100% shameful," Thomas' comment on the photo said. "I promise you will never see anything like this on my field. I support the Blue and am not ashamed to say it."
A statement was issued by USC Aiken's athletics department following Thomas' comment, which was also shared by the university's official Twitter account.
"At UofSC Aiken we are clear in our stand that hate, inequality and injustice will not be tolerated," the statement reads. "We stand with the African American community and with all who are victims of racism and resulting inequalities ... Pacer Athletics will continue its long standing commitment to support sensitivity training and education."
Thomas' resulting apology, which was posted on Facebook Monday night, claimed his comments were taken out of context.
"Apparently some folks have taken my comment about the stickers on the Clemson football helmets to some degree it was not meant to be," Thomas wrote. "My intent for the comment was to wish college athletics would not have to be involved in the politics of today. If you know me, you know I have always respected and appreciated not only my players but people in general without regard to any race. Might of fact I would say I truly love all my current and former players. If I have hurt your feelings I'm very sorry."
Last month, Thomas announced he would be retiring as the head coach at USCA after the 2021 season. Thomas has spent 21 seasons as the leader of the Pacers and is the winningest coach in program history with a 738-407 record.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Thomas said his original comment had been "misconstrued."
"We should leave the politics out of college sports," Thomas said. "...Never have I said anything about anybody of any race. I did not word it right. That’s what this is about."
Thomas said he stood by his statement made on his Facebook post Monday night addressing his comments.
"They've taken something and it’s just been blown up," Thomas said. "And this comes after everything I’ve done for this community … it was just totally taken the wrong way."
Students share their thoughts
Students weighed in on the issue after screenshots of Thomas' comments circulated on social media, including in some USC Aiken student body groups.
One student, Andrew Stone, said he personally believes racism is "among the worst of sins."
"With that being said, this quick and misguided attempt to paint Kenny Thomas as a racist is shameful," Stone said in an email. "This is a man who has worked with thousands of athletes and has been considered a pillar of the community by many. Now, all of a sudden, he’s a vile racist who deserves to get off 'our field.' That is blatantly wrong. There are many different conflicting opinions at our university. As respectful, intelligent and open-minded students we should be slow to condemn someone and quick to listen."
Another student, Kevin Jones, claims there are "many issues" and a lack of transparency with how he perceives incidents of prejudice have been handled at USC Aiken.
"In regards to the most recent issue, this man is an employee of the school," Jones said in an email. "He is supposed to uphold the school's values, support all of his students, and bring people closer together ... Instead of supporting and bringing our student body together, this teacher has successfully created more issues and a bigger rift between students."
Q'May Qourters, the school's former student body vice president, threw her support behind the BLM movement.
"As a student, I feel that this situation highlights whether USCA is diverse or divided," Qourters said in an email. "Not only do I believe that Black Pacers Matter, but Black Lives Matter."