The majority of players on a high school football team in New Jersey decided to kneel during the national anthem ahead of their season opener Sept. 10 (video below).
Woodrow Wilson High Coach Preston Brown told his players on Sept. 9 that he intended to kneel to draw attention to social injustices and economic disparities in the United States, according to NJ.com.
“All my life I felt like I stood up for the national anthem as a formality,” Brown told NJ.com. “It never meant that much to me. I still love America. I have nothing against it, and I still love our military and all that they do but it was never a song that moved me. I always just closed my eyes and did it.”
Brown added that he was not aware that a large number of his players would follow suit.
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One who didn’t was Edwin Lopez, but he said he understood the sentiment behind the action.
“I was just sticking to the script,” Lopez told NJ.com. “One little incident in the NFL shouldn’t change that. I was going to do my own thing. It’s a free country. I can see where they were coming from. They can do whatever they want.”
Lopez’s reference to the NFL was to the decision of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to sit during the Star Spangled Banner earlier this summer.
Brown said he felt it was time he did something too.
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“I grew up in poverty, a lot of these kids are growing up in poverty,” Brown added. “There’s a lot of social injustices and economic disparities. There’s issues right here in our own community.”
One problem the coach mentioned was house prices, which he said varied substantially.
“I’m African-American, I wouldn’t rather be in any other country,” Brown added. “But I can’t be oblivious to the things I see every day that are different four blocks away in a neighboring town.”
The Camden City School District released a statement Sept. 11 declaring their support for the First Amendment right of the players and coaches to kneel.
But not all organizations have been so understanding. The Diocese of Camden, which oversees several high schools, sent a letter in early September warning that refusing to stand during the anthem would result in suspension.
“However, let me be clear. We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right,” Superintendent of Schools Mary Boyle wrote, according to NJ.com.