Football, girls soccer teams protest injustice by kneeling during National Anthem

Kevin Finn and Hezekiah Likekele

When the Watkins Mill Wolverines football team faced the Gaithersburg Trojans on September 9, they were asked to rise for the singing of the National Anthem. The Wolverine team captains and a few other players decided to take a different approach by kneeling.

The idea for the movement came from NFL San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began making a statement against injustice and oppression towards people of color and issues with police brutality in America. He believes there needs to be a change. There have been mixed reactions to both Kaepernick’s and the football team’s stand against oppression.

“The National Anthem means nothing if everybody isn’t being treated the same,” junior Markel Grant said.

“I refuse to tell my kids whether they should sit, kneel, or stand for the National Anthem because it’s their right,” football head coach Mike Brown said.

Many opponents to Kaepernick and his supporters argue that this is not the right way to start the conversation about the racial inequalities in America, as the National Anthem honors the men and women who died for freedom and US independence. But many people are unaware of the third stanza of the song, which has been described as racist.

“The song itself was written by Francis Scott Key, who was a proud slave owner,” English resource teacher Wendy Farmer said.  “And the third verse, which is something we tend to pretend didn’t exist, is all about slaves who ran away [and] decided to fight with England.”

Following the example set by the football team, the ‘Rines girls varsity soccer team was also seen showcasing a similar statement before their game versus the Springbrook Blue Devils on Tuesday. During the National Anthem some of the team knelt down and the rest of the team interlocked arms to exhibit solidarity.

“We were talking about how brave the football players were and how we believe in the exact same thing about how minorities are still being oppressed,” junior Heaven Atta said. “So we [said] we should also kneel down at our next game, which happened to be the game against Springbrook.”

With these protests have also come backlash from opposing schools, even including threats against the Watkins Mill players. According to last school year’s demographics, more than 80% of Watkins Mill students are people of color, leading to many students and teachers supporting the decision that the players made to peacefully protest. “It’s your right as a US citizen to either sit or stand,” Brown added.

”We knew there would be backlash, for sure, and I think we’re dealing with it pretty well,” senior Brian McNeary said.

”If you don’t believe in the right of speech, then you don’t believe in the Constitution,” principal Carol Goddard said. “It is their constitutional right as long they’re… doing it peacefully.”

Montgomery County Public Schools’ policy supports the players as well, stating that students are “not compelled to participate in patriotic exercises,” and are not to “be penalized or embarrassed for failure to participate.”

“I hope [the team] takes it as motivation,” Brown added. “I hope they take it as a responsibility to not just take a knee, but to educate others and try to actually have an action other than just taking a knee.” 

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