High school sports have always attracted adults who sought to live vicariously through the accomplishments of student athletes. That’s fine, so long as the desire is channeled appropriately and the kids remain the focus.
However, sometimes, the focus shifts from where it belongs and veers in a radical direction. From Seattle’s KIRO:
The entire Garfield High School football team, along with half a dozen players from the West Seattle High School football team, knelt during the national anthem Friday night before their game.
Garfield High School Football Coach Joey Thomas said their team wanted to act as one, after having conversations about social injustices, and how Colin Kapernick [sic] was being viewed in the media.
“If these kids can be courageous enough to do this as kids, and they’re leading by example, what impact can you have?” Thomas said. “This is a high school team that is doing this. Where are all our other teams at? Where are all our colleges at? Where’s our University of Washington? Where’s our WAZZU?”
Why was this football team having conversations about social injustice and Colin Kaepernick? What did that have to do with football? These are questions I would be asking if my son were on this team. I would also be concerned about a coach who clearly wanted this. Thomas obviously shepherded his student athletes to bring this display about. You can sense his pride emanating from the quote.
While Thomas claims that “any student could stand if they felt uncomfortable,” imagine the environment these kids were immersed in. When your football coach is leading a discussion about social injustice, and your peers are caught up in the team spirit appropriate to a sports context, the pressure to conform is compelling.
Seattle Public Schools released this statement:
The District supports the individual and personal decision to stand, sit, or kneel during the National Anthem, but we ask all participants to honor the flag in a respectful manner. Students who choose to kneel during the national anthem are exercising their rights under the First Amendment. Seattle Public Schools supports students’ rights to free speech.
That reasoning proves specious on a number of levels. Prayer has been banned in school for a generation. Districts nationwide have adopted “anti-bullying” policies which effectively ban certain political and religious expression. Indeed, free speech has never been a dominant force in an educational context. Students are expected to restrain their speech all the time, and rightfully so. What proves appropriate or inappropriate remains a matter for administration, teachers, and parents to decide.
What then should the policy be? Should parents abide their children choosing to kneel during the national anthem? Should coaches be allowed to divert their teams toward political activism in this manner?
This is Seattle. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised. How would it go over in your town?