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Iowa high school football player called N-word for kneeling during anthem

Tiffin’s Darius Moore is undaunted, wants his voice to be heard

When Darius Moore decided to kneel during the national anthem two weeks ago, he knew there would be some negative reaction. Over the past year, the 17-year-old Iowa high school football player has seen the hateful messages and death threats, the constant media criticism and the supposed blackballing of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Still, he took a knee before Clear Creek Amana (CCA) High School’s sixth game of the season, a Sept. 29 road game against West Delaware. On Oct. 6, with Moore planning to kneel again during a home game against Marion High School, CCA’s administration decided to play the anthem before the freshman game hours earlier, rather than its normal routine of playing the song before varsity contests, to prevent any negative response from the crowd. But spectators in the stands noticed the switch. “People knew why they didn’t do the national anthem,” Darius’ father, Darryl Moore, said. “So that’s where the backlash came for Darius.”

From the home stands of the football field, a CCA student posted a photo to the social media app Snapchat of Darius Moore, a senior receiver and cornerback for the Clippers, running onto the field with the message: “kick this f—— n—– off the football team like honestly who the f— kneels for the national anthem.” He hadn’t even kneeled that day.

After the game, Darryl Moore wrote on Facebook: “For these words to be used towards our son, a young man who is attempting to do what he feels is right and how America is supposed to be, shows how far we have regressed. All we can do is pray that people open their minds and understand that we don’t all have to agree to show basic respect to one another. Taking a knee is not meant to offend anyone who has served for our country, as we have multiple family members who have served in the past and who are currently overseas fighting for our privilege of freedom today. We must progress to equality and these hateful words should never, ever be tolerated.”

On Oct. 7, civil rights activist Shaun King posted Darryl Moore’s message on his Twitter account. As of this writing, the post had been retweeted more than 15,000 times.

Darius Moore decided a few weeks ago that it was the time for his voice to be heard. As a teenager of both African-American and Native American descent, he believed it was his duty to make his community aware of the police brutality, racial profiling and social injustices that uniquely affect black people in America. Originally from Sioux City, Darius Moore recently moved the 4½ hours to Tiffin to be closer to his dad.

Tiffin, a small city 10 miles west of Iowa City, is 92 percent white and 2.5 percent black. It is nestled in the middle of Johnson County, which backed Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election, although Donald Trump won the state. Despite the protest and the incident on Oct. 6, the community and school have been welcoming and supportive of Darius Moore’s transition to CCA and the football team.

Even at his young age, Darius Moore can personally attest to the current racial climate in America. He said he’s been followed around in convenience stores by store employees. White women clutch their purses when he walks by. Last month, his 17-year-old cousin, Aaron Brandon, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in Chicago after an alleged botched robbery attempt, according to the Chicago Tribune. Brandon’s father and two younger sisters were murdered in their home in July 2016.

“It’s happened to me and my dad here in Tiffin, Iowa — little Tiffin, Iowa. It happens everywhere,” Darius Moore said of racial profiling. “I guess my point is really to try and spread awareness throughout the community that this stuff can happen anywhere you go.”

Spreading that message did not come easy. When Kaepernick first kneeled last summer, Darius Moore didn’t know how to express his sadness, his anger, his hope. “When Colin Kaepernick had did it, I didn’t really know how to protest or how to show awareness to people,” he said. “And when he did it, I’d go back and look at the videos on why he was doing it, and it just really takes a lot of courage. And that’s what I needed to build up. So I really looked up to him, and that built up my courage to do it.”

He also looked to the women in his life. His mother, Marisa Miakonda Cummings, is a member of the Omaha Tribe and instilled social consciousness into him when he was young. She, too, refuses to stand for the national anthem at her children’s sporting events no matter how many other spectators stare or yell at her. His 14-year-old sister, Nia Moore, like many female athletes and activists before her who have assumed the mantle of leading the social justice movement, kneeled before her Sioux City high school volleyball team’s match a few weeks ago. Nia and Darius Moore have been called the N-word multiple times in their lives, including at school. Since he was at least a preteen, attending primarily white schools in Sioux City, Darius Moore has been called that word. “I can go all the way back to seventh grade being called the N-word at school and the principal not doing anything about it,” he said. “It actually hurt that time.”

His sister’s strength encouraged him to finally act. “I thought to myself, if my 14-year-old sister can do it and stand up for what’s right, I can too,” Darius Moore added. “I basically built up the courage after seeing her do it. … It was about time to stand up for what’s right. Or, in this case, kneel.”

He wanted to make clear that, despite what the vice president of the United States or anyone else thinks, the demonstrations have nothing to do with the U.S. military. After kneeling two weeks ago, Darius Moore shook hands with veterans and thanked them for their service.

Darryl Moore, 41, was caught off guard by his son’s initial decision to take a knee. Darius Moore had told only a few teammates, and his dad was briefly frustrated that he wasn’t able to talk to his son beforehand to make sure he understood the possible ramifications of what he was doing. He’s had “the talk” with all of his kids about the road ahead for them as African-Americans “since they were old enough to listen.”

Darryl Moore unquestionably supports his son’s decision, but he wanted his teenager to know what he was setting himself up for. “I talked to him about the potential consequences. Like, hey, you see the consequences that Kaepernick went through, and he’s a star. It can be backlash … not just from kids, but from adults too. It’s some nasty people out there,” Darryl Moore said. “He still wanted to go along with his decision to kneel. But he knew the consequences going in.”

Darryl Moore, who owns a basketball training company and is a substitute teacher at the local high school and middle school, talks about being pulled over by the police and racially profiled as a black man in a jovial, laughing-to-stop-me-from-crying tone. “The only issues I’ve had was just with probably me being African-American,” he said of living in Tiffin.

After the message was posted to Snapchat, Darryl Moore and his wife, Shawna Moore, spoke with CCA’s athletic director Kurt Ronnfeldt and school district superintendent Tim Kuehl. Both expressed support for Darius Moore’s right to free speech and assured the parents that hateful speech would not be tolerated.

On Oct. 8, the Clear Creek Amana Community School District released a statement supporting “the free exchange of ideas embodied by the First Amendment” and that the district “will not interfere with a student’s right of expression by peacefully kneeling or sitting during the traditional standing for the national anthem.” The statement added that “students will not be discriminated against in the education program, and that harassment or bullying of students will not be tolerated. Any conduct which violates these policies will be handled by school officials in accordance with law.”

Despite the Snapchat post, Darryl Moore doesn’t fear for his son’s safety because outside of a small group of people, the community has been understanding. CCA coach Gabe Bakker, in his first season with the program, asked Darius Moore to address the team and explain why he was kneeling, and now the nearly all-white team (Darius Moore is one of three black players) has his back. If the national anthem is played before varsity games going forward, Darius Moore plans to kneel. CCA has two games remaining before the playoffs.

Ronnfeldt said the school will “follow our normal schedule with the marching band playing the national anthem before the varsity contest.” When asked about any discipline for the student who posted the photo, the athletic director said, “We cannot provide info on student’s personal, educational, and/or disciplinary records.”

Darius Moore, like Kaepernick and other NFL players, wants to do more than kneel during the national anthem. He’s only in high school, but he’s doing his part to encourage his friends and community members to call out racism and social injustice. He had to build up courage to have his voice heard, and he wants others around him to stand up for what they believe in. He hopes others can take what happened to him and find that courage as well.

“This needs to be heard,” Darius Moore said. “People need to hear about this. This stuff actually happens. This is why pro players, college players, high school players are taking a knee, because of this reason right here.”

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"