The James A. Garfield High School football team made a show of solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick by kneeling during the national anthem before a big game.
Last Friday night, the Seattle-area high-school students decided to take the knee rather than stand while the anthem played prior to their game against West Seattle High. Some of the West Seattle students were seen kneeling as well.
Garfield High School is ranked as the seventh best high school in Washington state by U.S. News and World Report and has a total minority enrollment of 62 percent, making it one of the most diverse public high schools in the area. Nearby Roosevelt High School, which is ranked first among the Seattle public schools, only has 34 percent minority enrollment.
According to Garfield Head Coach Joey Thomas, who played in the NFL for five years starting in 2004, the players’ choice to kneel during the anthem was inspired by Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began his silent protest back in the NFL preseason.
“It really came from the kids,” Coach Thomas told Fox News affiliates after the game. “We were talking about things that were happening, taking place in society, and it went from the young men talking about the social injustice that they face on a day to day basis from coaches sharing their stories… And through our conversation, the players decided to do this. To make this movement.”
While Kaepernick has received harsh criticism for his refusal to stand at attention during the anthem, many others have offered their support and some other NFL players have begun to take part in the demonstration.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after the 49ers’ preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
When asked to comment, 49ers’ coach Chip Kelly told reporters that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand is “his right as a citizen.”
The Seattle School Board offered The Daily Beast a similar statement when asked about their students’ protest:
“Friday night, members of the Garfield High School football team were exercising their rights under the First Amendment. Seattle Public Schools supports students’ rights to free speech.”
While some see these silent demonstrations as disrespectful or dishonorable, others, like Kaepernick, feel that taking a stand against widespread racial injustice is part of the obligation of sports players who serve as role models for millions.
An article by Sports Illustrated likened Kaepernick to Rosa Parks and others have compared him to Jackie Robinson who, in his autobiography I Never Had It Made, wrote that 20 years after his first World Series Game, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”
“Some people are making it into him hating the country,” 49ers safety Eric Reid told reporters about his teammate Kaepernick. “But I think that he loves his country so much that he wants to bring attention to the issues that need to be fixed.”
Coach Thomas echoed Reid’s statement when speaking about his high-school team, noting that the students’ protest was an attempt to bring attention to bigger issues going on around them.
“It’s not about Garfield football,” he told reporters, “It’s about the things that are going on in society. We just wanna shed some light on this, we didn’t necessarily know that it would be this big, but hopefully this brings people together and start to have a serious conversation. Let’s focus on the issues.”
Sue Peters, vice president and director of the Seattle School Board offered a similar sentiment regarding the Garfield players’ support of Kaepernick, stating that “the gesture of the football team, along with similar gestures around the country, are part of a bigger conversation we need to have as a nation.”
“There’s a new awareness in the country, especially among the younger generations, that, as a nation, we are not living up to our ideals in terms of freedom for all, racial equality, and social justice.”