Members of three Twin Cities high school teams — two in Minneapolis and one in Edina — have joined other athletes around the country by choosing to kneel during the national anthem before recent competitions.
On Thursday, the entire South volleyball team knelt in a line before its home match against Washburn. A week earlier, seven members of the North football team did the same for their game at Brooklyn Center.
In Edina on Friday, ahead of the Homecoming game vs. Maple Grove, several black players among the Hornets dropped to one knee at one end of the field during the national anthem. The athletes came to administrators beforehand and told them “they felt very strongly” about what they wanted to do, said district spokeswoman Susan Brott.
These actions followed what is an ongoing national protest since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit for the national anthem during a preseason game last month. Since then, he has knelt during the anthem.
Kaepernick explained it was his way of expressing displeasure for how some law enforcement officers treat minorities in the United States — and several more professional athletes have done the same, including soccer star Megan Rapinoe and Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, a college teammate of Kaepernick’s.
A San Francisco area high school team also supported the movement en masse.
Minneapolis School District spokesman Dirk Tedmon released a statement that said administrators “respect our students’ right to freedom of speech as long as their actions do not threaten the safety and security of others.”
Nowhere in the school district code of conduct does it require students to stand for the anthem.
The Minneapolis protest photos gained prominence nationally when they were tweeted by Shaun King, a justice writer for the New York Daily News who has been tweeting photos of students taking a knee around the country.
Michael Walker, in charge of the district’s Office of Black Male Student Achievement, expressed pride in what the Minneapolis athletes chose to do, saying Tuesday, “This is what the real world is about. We have to make sure they have the space to be involved in this dialogue.
“It was peaceful ... and they made a decision. It wasn’t anything they were told to do. I was very proud of that.”
Through Walker’s office, a class called BLACK (Black Lives Acquiring Cultural Knowledge) is taught in four high schools and four middle schools. Walker is confident that it’s no coincidence that five of the seven North football players who knelt during the national anthem are enrolled in that class. Walker tweeted his office’s support under a photograph of the kneeling football players.
“This is basically what our class is all about ... what it means to be a black male in the United States,” he said. “We have a curriculum, and when current events come up, we stop our curriculum. ... We did dialogue and research about Colin Kaepernick.”
North students had recently learned about the anthem’s third verse — part of the original prose that is not sung — which references the death of slaves.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
They had a visceral reaction to Francis Scott Key’s words and a desire to make a statement, said black culture teacher Marjaan Sirdar, who instructs at least half the team.
“If social studies is not used for social change, then I don’t know what is,” Sirdar said. “This is a way for our kids to have a voice — even if it’s silent.”
The idea of social change was front in center from the first days of class at North, when young men began thinking about what they could do to express their opinions.
Within two weeks of classes starting, athletes around the country had joined the fray.
So on Sept. 9, seven players bent their knee in front of a few dozen fans. Many northsiders did not stand as well, though not as an obvious sign of protest. Conscious or not, Sirdar said some community members have never felt the flag represents them.
“Society has taught [people of color] that they’re not equal...” he said. “The expectation is for us to celebrate a song that celebrates our murder, which is just foul.”
North head football coach Charlie Adams said he’s taken a neutral position on his players’ actions. “We’re just business as usual,” Adams said. “We coach football, and the kids are people, free to their rights and the First Amendment. ... I told my players they have the right to [not stand] and the right to do so.”
Lacreasha Johnson, 35, of north Minneapolis, held her infant wrapped in a blanket as she watched her son play under Friday night lights. She’d missed kickoff, but had heard about the protest and was grappling with mixed feelings.
On one hand, Johnson understood how the boys were feeling about police brutality and racial disparities, but she’d also raised her teenage son to respect the flag.
“At first I was upset,” said Johnson, who was unsure if her son had even participated. “But I’m proud of them for learning something and then taking a stand.”
If you know of other schools in the Twin Cities whose athletes have engaged in similar protests, please contact Paul Walsh at 612-673-4482
Star Tribune staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.