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National Anthem

High school football players following Kaepernick’s lead

A look at some of the younger student-athletes who have knelt in protest

The movement is growing by the week. First, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem during an NFL preseason game to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Then a teammate and members of other pro teams started to join in.

Three weeks into the protests, 18 NFL players have participated in silent protest, U.S. women’s national soccer team star Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem, as did members of West Virginia State’s volleyball team.

Now, it’s reached the high school level. Here are some of the players who have protested and the responses from school officials and others.

On Sept. 2, Rodney Axson may be the first high school football player to be documented doing a silent protest. The 16-year-old football player for Cleveland’s Brunswick High School said he endured racial slurs during and after he took a knee during the national anthem.

His protest was not planned, he told the New York Daily News, but he decided to protest racial injustice after hearing two teammates use the N-word in the locker room.

“I didn’t show up to the game thinking that I would kneel for the national anthem,” he told Chuck Modiano.

According to the New York Daily News:

Axson says he was called the N-word by teammates multiple times both verbally that day and in subsequent text messages. Later in the week, a Snapchat post surfaced with a photo of a handwritten piece of paper with four “N-words” preceded by “F— Rodney” and followed by “Lets Lynch N——.”

Two students from Lincoln (Nebraska) Southeast High School took a knee during the national anthem on Sept. 9. One, Sterling Smith, is African-American and Latino. He and his teammate, Michael Baklykov, who is white, were featured in a local TV news broadcast and Smith also spoke to BBC.

Smith released this statement on Twitter on Monday.

This is not Smith’s first time speaking out against racial injustice. Pinned to the top of his page is a tweet of him at a Black Lives Matter rally.

On Sept. 9, a junior running back/linebacker at Louisville’s Waggener (Kentucky) High School was one of several players to kneel. As the song went on, Tre Chappell was the only player to remain on his knee, according to USA Today. Chappell’s coach, Jordan Johnson, supported the move and explained how the team is going to press forward.

“A young man made a decision to make a stand for what he feels is an injustice to him and his peers,” Johnson told USA Today. “We are taking steps for next Friday to ensure our young men can make a stand for social injustice, while at the same time not showing what is perceived as disrespect.”

Players for Maury (Virginia) High School outside of Richmond also received support from their coach as they silently protested on Sept. 9.

According to the Virginia Pilot’s Jami Frankenberry:

“Our school system has said, we’re of the belief, we let our guys do what they believe in,” coach Chris Fraser, who stood during the anthem, told the Virginian Pilot. “And so we didn’t make an issue of it, and if they believe in a cause, that’s fine. I stand behind what they believe in, but I’m going to do what I believe in.”

Members of the Watkins Mill (Maryland) High School football team, located outside of Washington, D.C., including the team captains, protested on Friday, too.

Watkins Mill’s coach Mike Brown was asked for permission by several players and informed them that, “The choice is yours,” according to the Washington Post. “I said, ‘Think about what you’re doing. Understand why you’re doing it,’ ” Brown added.

Junior quarterback Market Grant told the paper: “We just wanted to make a statement that America is not what you think it is.”

On Sunday, Doherty Memorial (Massachusetts) High School junior Mike Oppong tweeted that he had been suspended for a game for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem at the team’s season opener on Friday. Less than 24 hours later, Oppong tweeted that the suspension had been reversed. He thanked his friends, family, and the media outlets that brought attention to his suspension.

In a press release, Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda said there was never a formal suspension and that “[protesting] is [students’] constitutional right and no discipline can follow.”

Oppong spoke to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and several TV stations about the motivation for his protest.

He said he was inspired to stage his protest after watching NFL players do it the past few weeks.

“I feel like there’s a lot of injustice and inequality for a lot of black people nowadays,” he said, adding he plans to kneel for the anthem again at future games. “This is my way of being able to protest.”

A youth football team in Beaumont, Texas, also silently protested on Sept. 10.



On Sept. 10, all but two members of the Woodrow Wilson High School football team in Camden, New Jersey decided to participate in kneeling during the pledge of allegiance. Led by coach Preston Brown, the coaches also took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

Brown told NBC News that he informed his players of his decision before the game.

“I am well aware of the third verse of the national anthem, which is not usually sung, and I know that the words of the song were not originally meant to include people like me,” Brown told NBC.

Players on teams in the Diocese of Camden (New Jersey) have no choice but to stand during the national anthem, lest they risk a two-game suspension for the first time they kneel and a season-long suspension for the second offense.

On Sept. 2, Philly.com obtained a letter from Diocese of Camden Superintendent Mary Boyle.

The diocese told member schools that any player or coach who doesn’t “demonstrate appropriate respect” during the anthem could face a two-game suspension with additional penalties including dismissal from the team for subsequent incidents.

“We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right,” Superintendent Mary Boyle wrote.

According to AL.com, a McKenzie (Alabama) High football announcer responded to these silent protests by saying, “You can line up over there by the fence [if you don’t stand] and let our military personnel take a few shots at you, since they’re taking shots for you.”

That was met by big cheers, according to AL.com, which received an email from Butler County Schools superintendent Amy Bryan that said “patriotism should be a part of school events but threats of shooting people who aren’t patriotic, even in jest, have no place at a school.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.