The Reason These High School Football Players Were Kicked off Their Team Will Make Your Blood Boil

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Professional football player Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the national anthem in 2016 as a quiet protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Since then, his cause has exploded.

Thanks in part to Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments, #TakeAKnee has gone viral, athletes in all sports are demonstrating their support for the cause, and a national conversation has been ignited.

Now, a couple of high school athletes who decided to join the protest have been kicked off of their football team, fanning the flames of this already fraught discussion.

Trump’s misdirection has proven to be quite successful; he’s managed to frame these protests, which started before he was elected president, as being about disrespect of the flag, of the national anthem, of our nation’s veterans. It is actually about none of those things.

While Donald Trump wants them fired, many understand that they are exercising their right to free speech. It’s the first amendment of the Constitution, and it’s a fundamental tenet of our democracy.

It’s an exceedingly brave thing to do for these student athletes to kneel for the national anthem considering how many people, including the president, are offended that protesters seem to be “disrespecting” the flag.

They risk being ostracized by their teammates, team parents, and even their own coaches. It’s clear that there’s not overwhelming support for these courageous young people who are standing up (or kneeling down) for what’s right.

This note from the principal of Parkway High School in Louisiana makes it clear that any student who does not stand for the national anthem will face “loss of playing time and/or participation… Continued failure to comply will result in removal from the team.” Recently, in Texas, two players were immediately removed from their high school football team because they protested…

According to The Houston Chronicle, Ingram-Lewis raised his fist and his cousin, McCullough, knelt during the national anthem. Immediately after the anthem ended, coach Ronnie Mitchem told them to remove their uniforms and kicked them off the team.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mitchem said that the players’ protest “was offensive to people who served in the military.” “I’ve been very patriotic my whole life,” he said. “I believe everybody has a right to protest, and I let those guys do their protests. But the rule was, if you did this protest, you wouldn’t be on the team.” So…he didn’t really let them do the protest, did he?

In an interview with The New York Times, Ingram-Lewis said, “We had to get our message across: End racial injustice and the oppression of black people.”

“I’m definitely going to have a conversation because I don’t like the way that was handled,” she told The Houston Chronicle. “But I don’t want them back on the team. A man with integrity and morals and ethics and who truly lives by that wouldn’t have done anything like [kick them off the team].”

It’s the age-old conundrum: If veterans fought to preserve our democracy, to support our freedom of speech, and we use that to protest injustices against a marginalized group, how exactly is that disrespectful? One huge, national organization certainly doesn’t see the logic in not allowing high school athletes to protest without consequence…

“We support all who #TakeAKnee to protest racial injustice and police brutality today and always,” they wrote in a tweet. All who #TakeAKnee includes students as well.

“Students don’t forfeit their 1st Amendment rights in the classroom or on the playing field, incl. when they #TakeAKnee,” they wrote. Cedric Ingram-Lewis and Larry McCullough were Texas high school athletes who were punished for protesting. What’s the ACLU of Texas going to do about it?

The ACLU posted an online form where students who are being forced to stand for the national anthem or are being punished for protesting during it can share their experiences. “We’ll stand for your right to take a knee,” the form states. “If your public school is requiring you to stand for the national anthem, tell us your story.”