National anthem demonstration at Seattle’s Garfield High School
A national anthem demonstration has become common at recent sports events. On Friday night, a Seattle high school football team will be the latest to make a point.
Garfield High School football players decided to collectively kneel during the national anthem at the start of their Sept. 16 game. The purpose of the kneeling, as it has occurred in other sports venues across the country, is to draw attention to oppression that often goes unnoticed, or ignored, in America.
The notion began with 49ers Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem. Other sports figures soon followed.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick told the media recently about his national anthem demonstration. “This is something that has to change. When there is significant change and I feel that flag represents who it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people in the way it’s supposed to, then I’ll stand.”
Garfield High School football coach Joey Thomas said the main focus for him is the game.
“You are going to see a great football game by two undefeated teams,” he said, but also noted that there has been a lot of attention on the national anthem demonstration.
“The way this all happened was it was all organic,” he said. “It started with a conversation. Something that we pride ourselves on as coaches is talking about what happens in society with our young men. Regardless if we talk about it or not, they see it. They are going through it. So why not have a conversation? You want to help them process and deal with it.”
The conversations on the field and in the locker room spanned topics from how to handle situations with police, or other parts of their lives. It led to conversations about American history, such as the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner, which includes the line: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave; From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”
“It was open dialogue that led us to this point,” Thomas said.
Thomas also said that football players will get criticized no matter what they do. In this case, they prefer to stand up for something.
“When athletes get in trouble, they say, ‘they should be stand up guys; they should do the right thing for their community,'” Thomas said. “Then when we stand up for something, like Colin Kaepernick, now people become hypocrites. They say, ‘we don’t pay you to be a politician, we pay to to play a game.”
South Seattle Emerald Columnist Marcus Harrison Green reports further on the national anthem demonstration, noting the conversation among young students at Garfield — on and off the field. It covers a realm of issues around young people growing up to face realities of America’s majority / minority dynamic.
They watched Kaepernick, and the other athletes who followed suit have racist verbal venom spewed on them, in a refusal, an abject refusal to have the story, of what it means to live in this country individually and collectively as these students do as non-members of this country’s dominant group.
Responding to a national anthem demonstration
For KIRO Radio’s Don O’Neill, he sees taking a knee as time to listen. The demonstrations are a reminder to have conversations about tense issues in America.
“It seems to me, we’re beginning to have those conversations,” Don said. “It’s younger people that don’t have a problem having these conversations, which I think is exciting. It’s people that are older though that are seeing this as jumping up and down on the flag, as jumping up and down on veterans … but I think that’s what Colin Kaepernick was trying to accomplish – to talk about these impossible conversations.”
“One of the ways you show great respect in football is when your coach says ‘take a knee,'” he said. “When your coach says ‘take a knee,’ he doesn’t want you to sit on your helmet. You’re not supposed to be sitting on your butt. You’re not supposed to sit on the bench. You’re supposed to take a knee, and you’re supposed to listen. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in my life is to take a knee and listen to these conversations.”
For co-host Ron Upshaw, he understands that people can be outraged over disrespecting the flag. But that’s stopping short of covering the larger issue.
“We can also be outraged about the incarceration rates of black and brown people,” he said. “We can be outraged by the disproportionate numbers of black and brown men that are put to death in this country. We can be outraged by people serving third strike life sentences for dealing marijuana and now there’s a marijuana shop up the street owned by a white guy.”
For Coach Thomas, he lands in favor of having the conversation.
“We have to speak to your youth about what’s going on in society,” he said.
“We don’t have an all black team — we have Caucasian Americans, we have everyone on our team,” Thomas said. “For them to hear stories of their teammates, and to say ‘wow, this didn’t just happen on TV, this happened to my coach, this happened to my brother,’ it puts it into perspective.”