Photo Courtesy of JPCPhotography
October 24, 2017
In the last week of September, players from the NFL utilized their First Amendment right to free speech as many players opted to take a knee or link arms during the National Anthem to protest racial bias in the United States. This trend has spread nationwide, even reaching the playing fields of Atholton.
“People are confusing it with us disrespecting America. It has nothing to do with America like ‘I hate America.’ It’s just spreading awareness of the racism and police brutality,” said senior Iseaiah Venable, who began taking a knee at school football games on September 28.
Individuals like Venable who are choosing to take a knee recognize that many believe this protest is disrespectful to the military, but instead see it as bringing awareness to racial inequalities across the country.
Different school districts are handling the protest in different fashions. Some counties, such as Howard County, are allowing students to protest as long as the protesting is not disruptive to others. In contrast, counties such as Bossier Parish County, Indiana, are threatening to suspend players from game play, remove the protesting players from the team, or suspend the students from school altogether.
County officials gave guidance to principals and coaches on September 25 in a memo which stated that, “As long as students are not disruptive and behave in an appropriate manner, there is no reason to make an issue out of their choices.”
A few varsity football players alerted varsity Coach Carey before the Sept. 28 game that they would take a knee during the National Anthem.
“I was not caught off guard at all, ” he said. According to Ms. Hutchens, a few parents did contact her with concerns after the players’ protest, but Ms. Hutchens informed those with concerns about the county’s policy on freedom of speech. Though some parents were angry about the protest, schools have used this opportunity to talk about peaceful ways to protest and what taking a knee really means to these players and to the Atholton community.
During a team meeting on October 2, Coach Carey discussed the take a knee protest with his players. “What I did is I provided them with information of what it means to take a knee and what has been happening in professional sports,” he said.
Although students can protest in schools, they are not truly protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court set rights for students in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines case when a group of adults and students in Des Moines, Iowa wore black armbands and fasted in protest of the Vietnam War.
Although the protesting was silent, many were still upset or angered by the protest. 15- year-old John F. Tinker was suspending for his protest and the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of John Tinker, granting students First Amendment rights to protest as long as the protesting does not disrupt the education of others.
Today, almost half a century later, the outcome of that momentous Supreme Court case is still coming into play.
In another act of silent protest along with taking a knee, some students have been sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. Junior Emma Kohanski now sits during the Pledge of Allegiance to bring awareness to the same cause as the football players.
“The flag of the United States should stand for freedom and not everyone in this country is free. It’s not about veterans,” Kohanski said.
After noticing Kohanski sit for the pledge, one staff member requested she stand. Administration later put this issue to rest when they informed Emma and the teacher that she was allowed to sit during the Pledge if she wished, as long as it was in a respectful manner.
According to Tinker v. Des Moines, the right to peacefully protest cannot be taken away. Students are simply utilizing their rights. Although the NFL has yet to definitively rule on player protests, HCPSS has made their stance clear. Taking a knee and other peaceful demonstrations can and will continue. “Once things are the way they should be and everyone is treated equally,” Kohanski said, “then I will stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”