Students Protesting Anthem Deserve Support, Not Punishment

by Meredith Bland

High school students face backlash for refusing to stand during National Anthem

A couple of weeks ago, professional football player Colin Kaepernick started a national conversation when he refused to stand during The Star Spangled Banner. Kaepernick — who has vowed to continue his protest for the foreseeable future — told NFL media , “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Reactions to Kaepernick’s protest have ranged from disgust to admiration — some feel that not standing for the anthem disrespects our country and all of those who have died fighting for our freedom, while others view it as an expression of free speech.

The story has dominated the news lately, so it comes as no surprise that the issue has trickled down to our kids. High school students across the country — some football players, some not — have joined in the protest. At some schools, the staff have gone beyond just allowing the kids to protest and have instead gotten involved themselves. At Woodrow Wilson high school in Camden, New Jersey, for example, coaches chose to take a knee during the anthem alongside their players. Said coach Preston Brown: “This was our way of saying that things have to change in our country. There’s oppression, there’s social injustice, and these kids live it.”

Other students have not received such support. At one school, a teacher is being disciplined after trying to physically force a student to stand during the anthem. At Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Massachusettes, a football player faced a one-game suspension after he kneeled during the anthem at a game. The school later decided against the suspension, issuing a statement yesterday that said, “The Doherty student did not violate any school rule when he peacefully and silently protested during the National Anthem. He exercised his Constitutional Rights without disturbing the school assembly and he is not being disciplined in any way by his actions. Worcester Public Schools is a rich, diverse community that thrives to maintain open dialogue about the challenges that our community and our country face.”

Boom. There it is. Racism and the abuse of power by some police officers against communities of color are real issues. They are, in fact, issues of life and death, and worthy of raising hell over. But these kids aren’t raising hell; they aren’t burning flags or inciting violence, they’re sitting. That’s it. They are — through their silent inaction — making a statement about this country’s silent inaction toward the violence people of color sometimes face from those who are supposed to protect them.

Those who oppose these protests want people to respect the greatness of America. But what makes America great is our freedom to say what we think, to argue with our government, and to protest what we, the people, feel is unjust. The actions of these students exemplify all that is right with America, as do the arguments of those on the other side. It’s this freedom we have to express our opinions that should be celebrated. If these students were forced to stand with their hands over their hearts, what kind of country would we be then? How would we be any better than the countries that don’t allow their citizens such freedoms?

It’s fine to think that what these kids are doing is awful. And it’s fine to think they’re badasses for taking a stand. Peaceful protest is one of our most cherished rights, and the courage to engage in one is not something we should be stifling in our kids. If we say we want to raise independent thinkers who will make the world a better place, then we need to support these kids instead of censoring them.