September 19, 2016 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

National Anthem demonstrations reach high school sports

football-flagColin Kaepernick’s protests during the National Anthem influenced dozens of other professional athletes to stage similar demonstrations, and those at the high school level have started following their lead.

Over the last week, prep athletes in Washington, California, Florida and Minnesota — just to name a few — have taken a knee to protest social injustice, and reactions were mixed. Some demonstrations ended without issue, while at other schools players say they’re being suspended or receiving threats for their actions.

Here’s just a sampling of the media reports:

  • Coaches in Seattle join players in kneeling for Anthem.
  • Minneapolis football players kneel during National Anthem.
  • High school players in San Diego raise fists during Anthem.
  • Majority of Maryland football team kneels during National Anthem.
  • New Jersey team, players kneel during Anthem; District expresses support.

The demonstrations have sparked a national debate about whether they’re appropriate. Proponents argue that freedom of expression gives players the right to protest social injustice, while others say their actions disrespect those who fought and died for those very rights.

Regardless of what you believe, this will likely be a story throughout the 2016-17 prep sports season. Schools districts are forced to react to protests, and those reactions will undoubtedly face scrutiny.

It’s already happening in Florida. Orange County Public Schools said it would require student-athletes to receive written permission from parents to kneel during the National Anthem. A Massachusetts prep football player was suspended after kneeling during the Anthem, but the district later reversed its decision after public outcry.

“Recently, athletes have displayed silent protest in support of the dialogue on race and equality that continues to evolve in every community across the nation,” Worcester administrators said in a statement after dropping the one-game suspension. “This weekend, a football player from Doherty Memorial High School knelt down during the National Anthem, joining the many athletes who have silently displayed their opinion.

“The Doherty student did not violate any school rule when he peacefully and silently protested during the National Anthem. He exercised his Constitutional Rights without disturbing the school assembly and he is not being disciplined in any way by his actions. Worcester Public Schools is a rich, diverse community that thrives to maintain open dialogue about the challenges that our community and our country face.”

In a more extreme reaction, the PA announcer at an Alabama football game told those choosing not to stand “can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you, since they’re taking shots for you.” The announcer is a pastor.

Maybe you’ve already dealt with these issues in your own school or teams, but coaches and athletic administrators who have not should consider how — or if — they will respond. Chances are the decision will face scrutiny, but don’t be afraid to have a conversation with players and, at the very least, use this as a teaching moment for student-athletes. Attention nationwide has narrowly focused on protests themselves and not what the protests stand for.

Here is one of the best examples we’ve seen so far (via The Associated Press):

In Rockford, Illinois, some football players at Auburn High took a knee during the anthem and the school saw it as a teachable moment. Athletic director Mat Parker said coaches and players would discuss the protest “in what we hope will be a meaningful dialogue.”

“The student athletes said they wanted to create more social awareness of racial injustice in America,” coach Dan Appino said. “They made it clear that they did not intend to disrespect our military; rather, they wanted to embrace the freedom of expression and other constitutional rights that our military fought so hard to preserve. This movement is sweeping the nation as a peaceful form of protest. I am not happy that football is being used as the platform for this protest, but I respect the passion our kids feel about this topic.”

Click here to read more about what’s happening around the nation.

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