SF High School Football Team Refuses to Stand for Anthem

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 05: A giant American Flag waves above the track during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5, 2013 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing protest of the national anthem, every player of San Francisco’s Mission High School’s varsity football team, save one, failed to stand for the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” on Friday night.

One player with a family member serving in the armed forces stood with a clenched, raised fist during the song.

Mission High won publicity with the stunt. But San Mateo High School won the game 28-25.

“We’re a school that is focused on anti-racist teaching and social justice, and we have been that way for many years now,” Principal Eric Guthertz told the San Jose Mercury News.

He added, “This is a school that is very engaged in both the Black Lives Matter movement and other issues of social justice. It’s been something that has been a part of the fabric of Mission High School for many, many, many years — this notion of social justice and equity.”

Their coach Greg Hill, who is black, stood in respect during the pregame ritual. He said the team, when all of whom took a knee during the song in their previous game, wanted to experience “this historical moment” as a unit, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. “I decided I’d stand for them,” Hill said. “I’m gonna stand for my team.” He stood again on Friday evening.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others in the NFL and professional sports have taken to sitting or kneeling during the national anthem to protest perceived racism, oppression, and police brutality against African Americans.

Jeremi Duru, a professor of sports law at American University’s law school in Washington, D.C., claims sports figures are realizing that they have a powerful stage to express social injustices.

“Throughout the nation, athletes on different levels are finding their voice and recognizing that they have a platform,” the lawyer said. “We haven’t seen this level of athlete activism in nearly half a century. This is a movement.”

Not all Americans agree with Kaepernick and the teenagers at Mission High School. Fans in San Francisco demonstrated against Kaepernick and set his jersey on fire, while legendary 49ers receiver Jerry Rice admonished the backup quarter back. He Tweeted in late August: “All lives matter. So much going on in this world today. Can we all just get along! Colin, I respect your stance but don’t disrespect the Flag.”

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that Kaepernick “find a country that works better for him.”

Nevertheless, Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., asserts that the Mission High School players have a right to their protest. “A student in California has the legally protected right to engage in any speech that would be considered constitutionally protected if it took place in the off-campus world,” he said.

Team captain and starting quarterback Niamey Harris,17, led the team’s initial protest and explained how he pitched the idea to the team: “This is for helping everybody else in the world to understand that black people and people of color are going though difficulties and they need help. It’s not going to take care of itself.”

Harris told the Chronicle that he lives within a few blocks from where SFPD officers killed 26-year-old Mario Woods. The incident sparked citywide demonstrations in December. Breitbart News reported at the time that police officers shot Woods after he refused to disarm himself of a knife that he was brandishing. According to police, they used beanbag rounds and pepper spray to force Woods to drop the weapon, but he refused.

The national anthem, Coach Hill claims, moved him to tears during his own playing days because “it represented the freedom of being an American.” Now he says that “he understands and respects his team’s decision.” He believes that the boys were still respecting the flag when they knelt down during the playing of the song and suggests that its similar to the posture players take during on the field meetings.

“It’s important that the whole team did it,” Hill asserted of the initial protest. “We’re a diverse team — black, white, Hispanic, Asian — so the fact they all did it? I could only respect them for doing that. They’re the future leaders of this country … so for them to lead the way, it shows change can take place, and it starts with them.”