So you and your family are sitting down to have dinner this fall, and let’s say your son, who plays varsity football at your local HS, suddenly announces at the dinner table that he agrees with what Colin Kapaernick is doing in terms of protesting racial bias and oppression in this country — and to show his solidarity, your son is going to take a knee when they play the National Anthem at his next HS football game.
As a sports parent, or even as a coach, what do you say or do? There has been a ton of debate about this issue for several weeks, but very little has focused on the filter down effect on HS athletes. As a sports parent, if you haven’t thought about this issue up until now, this might be a good time to give this some thought. Not just your own personal opinion. But thinking about how you would react if your son or daughter took a knee.
Let’s assume, as several of my callers said this AM, that such an act is clearly unpatriotic and shows no respect for what the United States stands so. “We stand as a team,” commented one HS coach, “and I expect all of my players to stand for the National Anthem. No exceptions.”
When I then asked the coach what he would do if this situation actually presented itself, he confessed that he didn’t know what he would do. I reminded him that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and was even upheld in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. But the coach seemed unfazed. He couldn’t get beyond how unpatriotic this act was.
Another sports Dad called in and said that young athletes today have to be held accountable for their actions – that they need to learn early on that there might be consequences to any actions they take now, including a taking a knee to protest. The father suggested that he would discuss with his son why he was staging a quiet protest, and then would inform his son that “That’s okay, but please understand that I won’t be attending your game,” meaning, in effect, that the father didn’t want to be there in person when all the other parents, coaches, and fans looked at his son’s actions. The Dad didn’t want to be there because of possible embarrassment.
In other words, his son would have to put up with the consequences of not having his father watch him play in his HS games.
WHO’S RIGHT? WHO’S WRONG?
Let me add that some schools and states simply do not allow athletes to take a knee.
For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that some school districts in CA, in response to the take a knee protests, have formally warned their student-athletes not to do so. These warnings carry some real teeth, including being punished for disobedience, possible suspension or being dismissed from the team, or having their grades lowered.
Closer to home, the Diocese in Camden NJ has also put forth a statement that not standing during the National Anthem is a sign of real disrespect, and will simply not be tolerated.
There doesn’t seem to be any standard or uniform approach on this issue. And of course, coaches and AD’s and educators are looking for some real guidance on this. And that seems to be a main part of the problem. And the concept is also spreading into other avenues. For example, close to 20 members of the East Carolina University marching band took a knee last week at a game….and a number of football fans in attendance at the game booed them, and showered them with garbage.
And then there’s the football team from Las Vegas. In this incident, the entire team took a knee before their last game. But this was a team of 5 and 6 year olds playing football. You have to wonder whether these young kids had a real and true understanding of what they were protesting.
A LITTLE CIVICS LESSON
To help shed some light on this issue, let me first deal with the legality of all this this.
During the beginning of WW II in 1943 after Pearl Harbor was bombed, as you might imagine, Americans were outraged at being attacked. And to help build solidarity, lots of towns and school boards across the US passed a mandate that school kids had to stand up every morning in class , salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
But in a small town in West Virginia where this patriotic law was passed, the resolution allowed no exemptions because it was felt that, after all: “national unity is the basis of national security.” Yet in this particular town, there was a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a small religious group that was held in contempt by many Americans for, among other things, their refusal to serve in the military,… AND their refusal by the kids of these Jehovah Witnesses to salute the Flag, or to recite the Pledge. As part of their faith, they don’t believe in doing such things.
In other words, these young students were exercising their freedom of religion….and their freedom of speech….and would not stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, even though the US was fighting for its life in WW II. You can just imagine the kind of outrage this generated in this town.
It all ended up in court. The case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which held in a landmark decision that yes, these students had every right to NOT stand up, to NOT salute the American flag, or they were NOT obligated to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
In other words, that it was, in effect, their American right NOT to participate.
To me, this is very, very similar to what’s going on now with the take a knee protests. Whether you like it or not, these athletes definitely have the right to protest in a civil manner for what they believe in.
In other words, the way I read this Barnette case from 1943 as adjudicated by the US Supreme Court, all of today’s student athletes AND coaches have the absolute right to take a knee during the National Anthem if they so choose.
I’m not a lawyer. But in discussing this matter with some of the nation’s top attorneys, I understand that the Barnette case is still very much in effect…that means that any school boards or states or leagues which try to BAN kids from taking a knee or PUNISH kids who protest are in violation of that famous Supreme Court ruling.
SO WHAT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO?
To me, if your son or daughter decide to stage a protest and take a knee, as a parent, I would strongly suggest you sit down with the youngster and first ask them why they are protesting. Allow them plenty of room to make their case. Hopefully, they will have some real and substantial reasons for their actions. But, for example, if they say, “All my friends are doing it….I don’t want to be the only one not taking part,” then you might want to take this moment to have a real heart-to-heart with your youngster.
On the other hand, if they really have given this some real thought, then understand that they are certainly entitled to their opinion, just as you are. And if they have really thought the issue through, you can respond by saying you don’t disagree. That’s the essence of free speech and debate in this country.
And if nothing, this kind of situation forces kids — and parents – to think about the concept of American freedom, about the real sacrifices made during wars, and of course, one’s own feelings about life in the US today.