By: IAN GEERTSEN
Among the many controversies of 2017, one of the most prevalent, and possibly most surprising, is the national anthem protesting. What started with one player has turned into a league-wide phenomenon, as numerous NFL players have taken after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by protesting during the national anthem, acts of protest that have had ripple effects all the way to high school athletics.
While NFL teams have had varying reactions since Kaepernick first protested on Aug. 26, 2016, one common theme across the league has been a decrease in the number of protesters. In week three of the 2017 NFL season, for example, 32 of Denver’s 57 active players knelt during the anthem. Starting week four, they decided to stand during the anthem as a team. The Pittsburgh Steelers came to the same decision in week four, even after every one of their players—except for Alejandro Villanueva— stayed in the tunnel at their previous contest.
Even Kaepernick’s former team had just six protesters in the NFL’s week six, after about twenty of their players protested the week before. Although protesters have decided to stand up during the anthem for many reasons, outside pressure, especially from coaches and owners, can have a huge impact.
“There is no question the league is suffering negative effects from these protests,” said Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, according to Todd Archer from ESPN. The Cowboys have not yet had a players protest during the national anthem.
While many high school football players have protested during the anthem, the same can not be said for Carmel.
“I am not against it, but I have never protested,” junior Carmel wide receiver Rashaan Ward says.
Despite how much Carmel’s players may or may not support the actions taken in the NFL, none of them has kneeled during the anthem for one of their own games.
“There’s not a lot of politics in our locker room,” senior offensive guard Dalton Quilty says. “I think we’re more focused on just playing football.”
Much like the players, assistant coach Ralph Ward is focused more on playing than protesting.
“I don’t discuss politics,” coach Ward says, “with students or while working.”
While Carmel football players have not been protesting during the national anthem to date, if they ever did decide to protest during the anthem, head coach Golden Anderson would prefer to remove the confusion surrounding this controversial act by first clarifying what the player was upset about.
“I wouldn’t want to see someone kneeling and find out after the fact that they had an issue,” coach Anderson says. “I’d want to know beforehand.”
In Crosby, Texas, though, two high school football players have been removed from their football team for protesting during the anthem, as of Oct. 2. Larry McCullough, who kneeled during the anthem, and Cedric Ingram-Lewis, who raised his fist, were asked to hand in their uniforms by their coach, a local pastor and marine corps veteran.
Their coach, Ronnie Mitchem, said that the two boys’ protests were offensive to military service members, according to Jacey Fortin from The New York Times. Ingram-Lewis said while his demonstration was not purposefully disrespectful toward the military or the American flag, he did not regret being dismissed from the team.
Coach Mitchem later added that he cares deeply about the two boys and would consider allowing them to play again if they agreed to stop protesting. Although McCullough and Ingram-Lewis were removed from a church-based football team, without any high school affiliation, many schools have taken action themselves to try and deter their students from protesting.
Waylon Bates, the principal of Parkway High School in Louisiana, has threatened a loss of “playing time and/or participation” for students who protest during the anthem, Fortin says.
Closer to home, Bellarmine College Prep assistant football coach Jacob Malae resigned from his position after a dozen varsity athletes kneeled during the national anthem.
“The act of kneeling during the national anthem doesn’t create dialogue, it creates division,” Malae stated in his letter of resignation, according to Darren Sabedra of The Mercury News.
Malae, a former defensive lineman at Bellarmine, had hopes of one day becoming the team’s head coach, but gave that dream up after the varsity protests. On the night of the protests, Sept. 29, the protesting athletes came together to explain why they chose to kneel, saying they want to show support for groups who are marginalized in this country, including “minorities, women, immigrants, those who have experienced religious persecution, and members of the LGBTQ community,” Sabedra reported.
While many high school football players can witness some of their favorite players and role models protesting during the anthem, before the anthem or during the game, the boundaries for how far the students can take their protests have not been set. In the end, only time will tell whether high school football players will gain the same liberties as their professional counterparts.