Area coaches, administrators weigh in on anthem protest

Area coaches, administrators weigh in on anthem protest

When the Centennial High School football team travels to Normal West for tonight's game, Tyreace James will stand alongside teammates when the national anthem plays prior to kickoff.

James' dad and other family members have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

"I do it for them," James said. "That moment, for me, is about them."

Still, James said he supports the message that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is trying to send with his recent protests during "The Star-Spangled Banner." Kaepernick sat during the anthem for the 49ers' first three preseason games and took a knee last week during the preseason finale.

Kaepernick, who is half white and half black, said he's taken action because he is "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Reaction to his much-publicized protest has been mixed and — in some cases — his stance has been copied.

But will it happen here?

This weekend, the anthem will be played at sporting events featuring area high schools, junior colleges and the University of Illinois.

Officials from schools which responded to News-Gazette inquiries said they don't have a formal policy regarding conduct during the anthem.

"We'd probably have a conversation about it and at the end of the day respect the individual student's rights and freedoms," Monticello Principal Tip Reedy said when asked how the school would handle a student protesting the anthem.

Most said while it's not an action they would take, they wouldn't be against a student exercising that right to protest.

"Legally, a student would have the right not to stand for the anthem if that is what they choose to do," St. Joseph-Ogden Superintendent Brian Brooks said. "If a student chose to do this, the coach and (athletic director Bradon) Smith or (Principal Gary) Page, would talk to the student to see why they had chosen not to stand for the national anthem. Even if we were to disagree with whatever reason a student would choose to do this, we would still want to be able to provide support for that student from anyone who strongly disagreed with their stance."

At some places, it's not an issue. At Oakwood, for instance, the Comets aren't out on the field when the anthem is played.

"I would not have a problem with an athlete choosing not to stand during the anthem," football coach Gary DeVries said. "I personally would not make that choice, but it is well within an individual's rights to make that decision."

Parkland athletic director Rod Lovett sent a memo to coaches last month when the Kaepernick news was at a fever pitch.

"I've made it clear to all of our coaches that the national anthem and the flag are to be honored by our coaches and our athletes but that if any athlete feels the need to discuss the issues, I would be happy to meet with them to discuss alternative options to show their concern for an issue," Lovett said. "To date, no athlete has come to me with any concerns."

Cobras soccer coach Mark Sikora hasn't had to deal with issues regarding the anthem partly because so few venues at which Parkland plays are equipped with a sound system to play the song. Sikora, who doubles as a history teacher at Centennial, has had conversations with friends and colleagues about the issue.

"I was more curious about the reaction to (Kaepernick) both positively and negatively," Sikora said. "I appreciate what he's done in order to keep the dialogue from dying. I think oftentimes we go into lulls and them we get kind of snapped back into it. I would rather have us snap back into the conversation that way than a riot or another killing. We shouldn't have to only have these conversations in those moments."

Argenta-Oreana student-athlete Derek Jones said friends are split about Kaepernick's actions.

"I think it was a smart way to do it, he's certainly gotten a lot of attention for it and the cause," Jones said. "Most people would rather see him taking a knee for the national anthem than rioting and looting like has happened when there's been protests in the streets. I think this is a much more peaceful way of doing it."

Jones said he leans on the side of supporting Kaepernick and his takeaway is that many have shifted the focus away from the real message behind the protest and more toward the anthem.

"The issue never was about the national anthem; it was about the oppression of people of color, and that's the unfortunate thing about it. It has generated a lot of conversation, but very little of it has been about the cause he was trying to bring attention to in the first place," Jones said. "I'm not one of the people who has been oppressed and I haven't had to deal personally with that issue. A lot of people around Argenta might not get that and what he's going through and what the people he's trying to represent are going through."

In his 10 years as the principal at Rantoul, Todd Wilson said he's never had to deal with an athlete refusing to stand during the anthem.

"We're going to let them do it, it's their First Amendment right to do it, but we're not going to draw a whole lot of attention to it," Wilson said. "I would like to think we would focus on the students that are standing and showing the proper respect versus the one student who's chosen to exercise their First Amendment rights in another way."

Wilson has a unique perspective on this situation, having served eight years in the Army.

"I'm a third-generation military man and just because I personally believe everyone should stand for the national anthem, I also understand that I have a professional responsibility to not infringe on students' rights and also have that responsibility that when they are making that choice it's an informed choice," Wilson said.

At the University of Illinois, the topic has drawn little conversation.

"There hasn't been a directive from the administration to do so," sports information director Kent Brown said. "I think we encourage all our students who are athletes to feel like that can express their opinions as long as it's appropriate in terms of language and things like that."

Of the 35 high schools contacted for this story, five declined comment and half did not respond at all.

"In sociology, we did a project and of the 10 options, one of them was Colin Kaepernick," James, a senior at Centennial said. "We talked a lot about that and just about everyone who spoke up was supportive of his protest. Bad things have been going on and it needs to be fixed. The more we talk about it means we'll maybe be able to find out what needs to be fixed."

If nothing else, it's has been educational for folks of all ages.

"Any of these situations that come up, we need to take them as an educational opportunity for the students to learn and for everyone to learn," Reedy said. "The bottom line is for everyone to grow and get along."

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KrisM wrote on September 09, 2016 at 10:09 am

Three students at Centennial made the choice to sit during the anthem last night at the volleyball game. After the BLM protest where they damaged the car, and now this I have to wonder what they are being taught. Apparently it is not respect for other people or for property. How will any of this help these students become productive members of society? I am reconsidering my yes vote on the additional taxes if this the way students are being taught at our high schools.

KyleDasan wrote on September 09, 2016 at 10:09 am

Interesting. I wonder, KrisM, what exactly about "the way students are being taught" makes you want to hit them in the pocketbook. Now obviously, there's a wide gap between damaging a car, and exercising their 1A rights and sitting in peaceful protest. I highly doubt the school is teaching them to damage automobiles. I’m agreeing with most of the people in the article here. It’s the students right not to stand for the anthem. They don’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

 “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend, to the death, your right to say it.”

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 09, 2016 at 12:09 pm
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Meh, she just doesn't want to pay. And she favors freedom of speech that agrees with her opinions.

I'm glad to see that all these administrators seem enlightened, apart from the guy at Parkland of course.

Anonymous71 wrote on September 09, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Krism, the students you are referring to are apparently being taught about the constitution, the right to free speech, how to think independently, and how to affect change in the world. Your comment demonstrates that YOU are the one who needs the education. You can start by learning from these students. 

CallSaul wrote on September 10, 2016 at 12:09 am

I'm curious, do you also have a problem with the person who chose to provatively drive into a crowd of protesting high school kids? Or is that just what good Real Americans do...? Do you only have a problem with kids ptotesting police killing unarmed people for no justifiable reason?

Not doubt, Donald Trump and his voters would cheer chosing to drive into the crowd...

cgirl wrote on September 09, 2016 at 12:09 pm

I like the "don't play the anthem" solution. Why would it be played anyways, it's not like high school athletes are fighting for honor...they're playing a game.
It sorta makes sense at the Olympics, where there are multiple nations being represented, but here we're all Americans.