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Wisconsin basketball star responds to Grassley hit: ‘I refuse to back down from what I believe in’

Ten days ago, University of Wisconsin junior Marsha Howard found herself the target of an elected official, when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) directed his constituents to “exprress outrage” at the women’s basketball player for not standing during the national anthem during Wisconsin’s road game against Iowa.

According to Grassley, her decision meant she wasn’t “patriotic enuf.” But the ire of the elected Iowan isn’t deterring the star forward.

“It was his opinion but I refuse to back down from what I believe in,” Howard told ThinkProgress via e-mail this week. “I don’t understand how exercising my constitutional right isn’t being patriotic. The First Amendment allows me to petition the government and to peacefully assemble.”

Howard, who will try to lead her team to a victory over Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday in Indianapolis, has been quietly protesting during the national anthem all season long, either by sitting on the bench or remaining in the tunnel while it is being played.

Her coach, Jonathan Tsipis, told reporters that she was protesting gun violence, but the Chicago native told ThinkProgress it was about more than that.

“I have not only been protesting the brutal acts of gun violence but also the improper attainment of justice and liberty for all, and the understated emphasis on racialization and inequality of people of color,” Howard said.  “Systemic racism is important to me because it affects me, my family, my culture, and the systematic oppression we have endured.”

Howard is far from the first women’s basketball star to protest during the national anthem — WNBA players were vocal advocates for Black Lives Matter back in the summer of 2016, and many of them protested during the national anthem after Colin Kaepernick started the movement that fall. Her coaches and teammates have been supportive, but her family has been her rock.

“My family has been at the top of my support sheet from day one and continues to love and support me through it all,” she said.

“Facts prove the systematic oppression and the fight to keep people of color in the back with their mouths shut.”

If Howard’s been distracted by the increased attention on her protest since the Grassley tweet, she certainly hasn’t shown it on the court — in the only game since, she scored a career-high 28 points in a loss to Michigan State.

On Wednesday, Howard and the Badgers will try to take down Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. If they win, they’ll face Iowa in the second round. While there’s no telling what will happen in the tournament, one thing is certain: Howard isn’t going to stop protesting and speaking her mind. Critics like Grassley and Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who told recently LeBron James to, “keep the political commentary to yourself, or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble,” just inspire her to speak louder.

“Facts prove the systematic oppression and the fight to keep people of color in the back with their mouths shut,” Howard said. “It’s not ‘shut up and dribble’ when we’re out doing for the community. Whenever we stand up or speak on topics that relate to us about racial disparities, it’s always ‘shut up and dribble.’”

Howard loves her sport, and she wants to win, but she knows that this is much bigger than just a game.

“What inspired this protest was having a platform that I can use to speak for myself and others who aren’t given the same opportunity; the voiceless Americans,” she said.

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