High school student national anthem protests spark a bigger conversation about racial injustice

Watkins Mill HS varsity football team kneels during the national anthem. Photo via @BasedGodJae on Twitter.

By David Sheridan

In the weeks since Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49er quarterback, took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, specifically the killing of unarmed Black men by the police, we’ve seen a growing number of high school student-athletes following his lead.

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The football players of Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland took the knee before their game with Damascus High School and the significance of their action was felt well beyond the stadium. Damascus principal Jennifer Webster reported that the protest became a huge topic both on social media and inside the classroom. “The Watkins Mill players’ silent protest has started a bigger conversation that must continue,” she added.

The Watkins Mill coach Mike Brown heartily agrees, and although he prefers to stand during the national anthem, he is very proud of his kids. “We teach them every day, to think on their own, problem-solve, stand up. And here they are doing it!”

At Mission High School in San Francisco, where every single player knelt during the national anthem, educators report that this action has sparked substantive discussion among students and educators about racial injustice in America.

In fact, there have been conversation-provoking, kneel-down protests by high school student-athletes across the nation—from Garfield High School in Seattle to Aurora Central High School in Colorado to Madison East and Madison West High Schools in Wisconsin to Woodrow Wilson High in Camden, New Jersey. And at Omaha Central High, cheerleaders and band members joined the protest.

“We have a younger generation that sees these issues and wants to be able to correct them,” says Colin Kaepernick. “I think that’s amazing. I think it shows the strength, the character and the courage of our youth. Ultimately, they’re going to be needed to help make this change.”

And Jennifer Webster, Mike Brown and other educators believe we must support these courageous young people and continue the conversation that they have inspired.

Reader Comments

  1. I believe that the National Anthem in sacrosanct. If these supposed protested want to have a dialogue about change then this is definitely, NOT the platform. It is an absolute excuse not to honor OUR flag! That means every religion, race and orientation. The professional football players should be fined. They do’t want to stand? They shouldn’t get paid. GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

  2. Ever see see your colleagues die while serving in the military? Your opinion might be different about these unpatriotic, idiotic, immature games.

  3. I very proud of the young people who are sending a message to America. The killings of Blacks by police must be stopped. I believe a life is more important than a song.


      very, very .very disrespectful. shame on all those who choose to do it in this manner. G.B.A.

      1. I too have tears when i hear this, and sometimes even stand at home when watching a game! It means that much to me. However, I served to ensure our Rights and Freedoms aren’t abridged. I don’t like what they are doing, but won’t disallow them from doing it.

    2. Sending a message? What message? That they are inconsiderate, over-indulged, over privileged, no-nothing teenagers? I have served with young Marines, only a couple of years older than these morons who understand sacrifice and what it means to be an American. Anyone who thinks disrespecting the Anthem, Flag or other American institutions ought to just leave. Now, go, you will not be missed.

      What in God’s name does disrespecting one of the foremost symbols of our freedom have to do with race relations? Gimme a freakin’ break. The Hag sang it: Walkin’ on the fighting side of me, as well as Stonewall Jackson in the 60’s: The Minutemen are turning in their graves.

  4. Every one of those imps need a swift kick in the butt, and an all expense paid trip to Arlington cemetery to mow the lawn for a month or so.

    Yeah, they can act like morons, but in so doing will cause privilege to become license.

  5. To the person upset that this might be disrespectful to the veterans and those who gave their lives – it seems to me that they were fighting for America’s beliefs – equality, the right to feel safe in your homes, the right to speak out with what you believe, and so much more. These students are simply agreeing with what America, and thereby, our soldiers, have believed and fought for.

    1. Might be disrespectful ? I really do not understand why these people do not just leave: go to Canada, Mexico, North Korea, wherever.

    2. These jerks were not fighting for beliefs they were imitating an overindulged moron pro football player who apparently has their attention. Their actions had/have no potentially adverse consequences other than criticism therefore the action has no meaning. They have no ‘skin in the game’, nothing to lose so what do they care?

  6. It is deeply, deeply saddening to see such disrespect being celebrated, as though these children (and yes, they are children, including the second-string football player from San Francisco) were striking some great blow for freedom by spitting in the faces of veterans. Instead of teaching student athletes to be respectful of the ideals represented by our flag and anthem, we pat them on the back for their petulant cynicism and their blind, unreasoning imitation of overpaid professionals who wouldn’t be caught for love or money at an actual BLM rally. Yay us – look at how creatively destructive we are!

    Pity the coach fails to recognize this, as time was that a coach could be relied on to be a moral compass for the young men in his charge. Long gone are the days when the football players wore a dress shirt and tie on game days – guess I just hadn’t realized that we’d slipped to the point that a coach whose team pulled a stunt like this wouldn’t immediately forfeit the game, then adjourn to the locker room for an epic conversation about the time and the place, and the right way and the wrong way, to engage in political demonstration. On the other hand, perhaps Coach Brown should be commended for having a team that solved the problem of how “taunting” and “prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebration” can be an activity worthy of ebullient praise before the game clock starts ticking, but a 15-yard penalty and possible ejection once it does.

    The principal of the offending school says she’s happy to have “started a bigger conversation.” About what?, I have to ask. These protests don’t get people (at least not the ones who make and implement policy) talking about racial injustice; rather, they talk about the provocation itself, about how their career-officer, Vietnam-vet father described the feelings generated by seeing the kneeling stunt as reminiscent of those he felt as he made his way in uniform through the San Francisco airport in 1971. Or about how their grandfather might’ve actually shed a tear over this, even though he’d left most of his lifetime’s supply in Normandy in 1944. The better-tempered merely pine for the day when even the most bitter of political opponents could pause for a moment before battle to honor and reflect on their shared commitment to ideals greater than any of us; the less-forgiving just see it as an unprovoked, undeserved insult. While there’s no one who would assert that these kids don’t have the right to express their feelings – they most assuredly do – nor would anyone deny that soldiers serve in order to protect the rights of all citizens, since they fully understand that they’re protecting some expressions of freedom with which they personally disagree in the name of protecting the freedom of expression for all, this modified Tebow-ing (and the praise it is receiving) is terribly misdirected in the messages being sent. In other words, they’re offending the wrong people for the right reasons using the wrong method.

    Until now, the purpose of a visible, public protest was to support a specific goal – satygraha until the Brits leave, hunger strike for the release of political prisoners, that sort of thing – but this “look at how edgy I am!” movement doesn’t seem to have a goal beyond some amorphous idea about getting a conversation started. When does this protest end? What conditions – and they’re gonna have to be a little more specific than “cops should stop killing black men” – will have to be met before these Millennials can be coaxed back into standing for an anthem that has commanded the respect of nine generations of their forebears? What can I, as a mere citizen, do to get these protestors to stop?

    I’m not being entirely facetious here: as a veteran who has lost friends in service to our country, it pains me to see our young people confusing an attack on national symbols for patriotic dissent. It’s even worse to see my peers – the 98% of my generation who never wore the uniform, but always dutifully thank me for my service if the topic comes up – celebrating this behavior without ever once asking: if crapping on the national anthem was such an effective means of prompting social change, why didn’t we Gen-Xers think of using it during those years that the Reagan White House was silent on the AIDS epidemic? Just imagine how much more effective Divest South Africa, famine relief, or the Gay Rights movement would have been, if only our athletes would have led us in some good ole’-fashioned flag-bashing!

  7. I don’t usually comment on these forums, but I think that this is a remarkable addition to our All American game; giving our kids a venue to speak their conscience regarding social justice issues.

    1. Kids do not have the maturity or knowledge to vote responsibly. So, likewise, their meaningless, disrespectful actions have only meaning to disgrace them. Remarkable addition? Pleeeeezze……

  8. For anyone who wants to educate themselves a little more. I found this short (15min) documentary on our national anthem, it’s history and the motivations of its author Francis Scott Key. Like any part of our nation’s history, it’s complicated and very much involves race. https://vimeo.com/166881889

  9. I agree with “Trishe” and her previous reply. Also, no way, no how, would I want to be in law enforcement today. Officers today have their hands tied. Are their crooked cops out there? Absolutely! Unfortunately, ALL police officers are suffering unjustly because of it. I often wonder, “If the vast majority of those individuals killed or maimed by the police would have not run or had not been carrying a weapon or put their hands in the air or submitted by going to the ground, would they be alive today?” Simple, really.

  10. “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”(1) Perhaps, those who do not agree with this may be better disposed to living under another form of government other than a Democracy.

    (1) First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, December 15, 1791

    1. When privilege is abused it becomes license. The next step is revocation of the privilege. That is the course these so-called protesters are embarking upon.

  11. Well I agree that there is problems with the police and the black community, I feel we need to problem solve by the black community and the police sitting down with each other and suggesting ideas that will make things better, like better training, community togetherness with the police and the black community! Before arresting someone, have some kind of identity check before police get out of their cars when picking up drivers, give a person that wants to be a policeman a mental examine and a lie detector test, all kinds of things!
    As far as the National ATHEM I’m not so sure that is the way to do it! That song was meant to honor our soldiers who have served and died in War!! It just seems like we should hold that dear to our hearts and to use that is just so wrong!! The white and black men and women and all different backgrounds that have served and died, deserve to be honored for their sacrifice and we should be very proud of that!!!! We should be very proud of America and once you are gone from this earth it’s forever!!,!! AMERICANS should be proud of America for how far we have come from other countries!!!! ARE we perfect NO, but we sure do work on it, and I pray and hope people understand this!!!

  12. The national organization is moving so far to the left, it’s knuckles are dragging on the ground. How soon before the NEA gets on the Hillary Clinton abortion on demand bandwagon?

    1. The Hillabeast will, by executive order, demand that schools have abortion clinics in the nurses’ offices. And her organization will chose the doctors (who have contributed to the ‘foundation’). The students have rights you know!

  13. Every US citizen has the right to express there thoughts and ideas. That is our right as a citizen. These young people chose to protest in a nonviolent way. They got there message across without anyone being killed or injured. We should be celebrating their mature, Gandi & MLK inspired method. If we don’t honor their ideas & method of speech we will force them to use other methods that can cause undo harm.

  14. I am so proud of those kids! NOW THE REALIZE that if they do something together, the authorities are helpless. They cant force them to stand up, and they have to let them so the game can go on, in which they have money invested. An oligarchy can go just so far until the people rebel. My love to those wonderful kids.

    1. Kids, exactly. They just learned how to wipe their butts. How can they responsibly understand the nature of their disrespectful actions? Ever think why 16 year olds aren’t allowed to vote? Lack of maturity. Just like this disrespectful action that has meaning only to bring disgrace on the school allowing this action.

      1. It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of the press.
        It is the soldier, not the poet, who gives us freedom of speech.
        It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to protest.
        It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who gives us the right to a fair trial.
        It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, who’s coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protesters to burn the flag.
        National POW/MIA Foundation
        As a veteran, I gave 20 years of my life to preserve freedom! “It shall not be abridged,” but I am also not going to let freedom be something we just say. I served with young people, teenagers, that had a lot going for them. To say they are just “kids”, and can’t wipe their butts” is a generalization that everyone now a days uses to prove their point. As a high school teacher, I have very thoughtful conversations, and some that don’t think before they talk, but they have the RIGHT to say it. They all know my background and have respect for me and my position, and I share ideas with them so THEY can form their own OPINIONS about the world today. I fought, to let them think, have their own ideas, and speak about what it is that affects them and their community. They know that Freedom isn’t Free, and believe this is still the best country in the world, but, it needs help. God Bless America!

        1. People have a right to say about anything, many do so without thinking or knowing what the hell it is they are talking about. Many ‘kids’ I have witnessed acted in ways in which they demonstrated they have no clue that their actions will/should have adverse consequences. However, too many times today, kids’ actions are simply dismissed without consequence but then we turn around and congratulate them on exercising their rights. Action without thinking. Not so good.

          Anybody can take advantage of whatever rights this great country affords then, but it takes courage to do what is right

          Why does the photo show every kid on the team not respecting the anthem? If there was not a single kid with the self respect to show respect to the nation then they have proved the point that they are simply followers and afraid to strand alone and free.

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