Administrators and coaches remain publicly silent on the topic, but Wolves football players say they do not support the “knee taking” National Anthem protest began a few weeks ago by Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and continued locally by West High School football players at the school’s Sept. 17 game against South Anchorage.
“We aren’t going to do it,” Hunter George said. “Personally I find it disrespectful and a fruitless “protest.” I also believe a large portion of the high school students participating in the “protest” are just doing it to be a part of the trend.”
George, a senior running back, said taking a knee as a member of the football team at Eagle River High School where a large percent of the school’s population are military dependents is unthinkable. He supports the “right” to “take a knee,” but he doesn’t respect or support the actual doing of it.
His teammate, Jordan Beaza, is African-American but Beaza said he doesn’t focus on his ethnicity or race issues facing this country when representing his high school as an athlete.
“I wouldn’t take a knee during the National Anthem and the presentation of our colors because it is symbol of our freedom and our way of life,” he said. His father is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army.
Beaza does agree that the “knee taking” protest is a signal that American needs to address racial issues within the justice system and government in general. But he also adds that he has never experienced racism while living in Alaska.
“I do not feel I have been discriminated against while I have been here in Alaska,” he said. “Everyone has been very nice and it helps that our football team is a family. Our educators and administration at Eagle River stand together and ready to handle any discrimination issues that could arise.”
ERHS Principal Marty Lang and ERHS Varsity Football Coach Matt Turner, also an ERHS teacher, punted on answering any questions regarding the “knee taking” protest.
On Mon., Sept. 19, Anchorage School District officials released a statement supporting the free speech rights of student athletes to participate in “knee taking” protest, but then also banned media from speaking with football players at practice or on school grounds.
“Student kneeling the National Anthem are expressing their rights protected by the First Amendment. ASD supports all students’ right to free speech as long as it does not impede others,” wrote Heidi Embley, ASD communications director, in an email.
Embley also cited ASD policy in Section 400.E.2.a (3) stating: “Patriotic assembly: A student may choose not to participate in the pledge or salute if he/she desires. A student who chooses not to participate must maintain a respectful silence and may not be disruptive while others are reciting the pledge.”
So while the district is forced officially to allow the “knee taking” protest, the guys playing pigskin at ERHS remain opposed.
“I basically understand the message they (knee takers) are trying to portray and it’s the First Amendment right to do so. However, I do not believe it is very ethical how they are doing it. They are disrespecting the U.S. flag which is part of the game. That flag stands for more than just our country. That flag symbolizes the freedom we have to be able to play this sport,” said Cameron Smith.
George followed up with,” My entire football team sings during the National Anthem before every game.”