Worcester, Massachusetts, high school students chose to take a knee during the national anthem before their Sept. 16 football game as part of the ongoing silent protests on racism and oppression in the U.S., which NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers started.
Four football players and one cheerleader from Doherty Memorial High School took a knee as the national anthem played at the beginning of the game, WBUR reports.
Junior Mike Oppong chose to protest because of the injustice African Americans face in America.
"Black people don't get a lot of equality, and are judged more by the color of their skin than their actions," he said. "The national anthem is basically a celebration of our rights as Americans, and if I'm not getting my rights as an American, then I don't feel like I should be celebrating."
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Oppong also took a knee during the national anthem at the team’s Sept. 9 game. He later tweeted that his actions earned him a one-week game suspension.
School officials have denied Oppong received disciplinary action.
"The Doherty student did not violate any school rule when he peacefully and silently protested during the national anthem," superintendent Maureen Binienda said in a statement, according to Mass Live. "He exercised his Constitutional Rights without disturbing the school assembly and he is not being disciplined by his actions."
On Sept. 12, Oppong tweeted that the suspension was over.
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“Thanks to all your love and support my suspension of [one] game has been terminated,” he wrote.
Before the Sept. 16 game, Binienda made a statement to the crowd to address the possibility of protests during the national anthem.
”I want everyone to know that at the national anthem tonight, we’d like everyone to stand, but if you choose not to stand, you must do so peacefully," she said, according to WBUR.
Oppong and three of his teammates, all of whom are African-American, protested during the national anthem. All of the white players on the team stood, but one held hands with a protester.
"It takes a lot of courage to be a young man, to be a student, to be an athlete, to stand out and be one out of a few dozen to do that," Worcester activist Isabel Gonzalez-Webster said. "And now there were four, and they're supporting him, that's great."
Gonzalez-Webster, who attended the game with her wife and infant child, wore a Kaepernick jersey and knelt in the stands with her back to the flag during the national anthem.
"Next time they have a game, maybe half of the team will [kneel] down," she said.
One veteran in attendance found the protest to be disrespectful.
"I think it's wrong," veteran David Legare said. "I think half these kids don't even know what they're doing, first of all, and what they're protesting about. They have no respect for the American flag, the veterans. I feel they should either not play in this game, or the coaches should somehow discipline them. I know they have a right to do whatever they want in this country, but that, to me, is just so disrespectful."
Oppong said he plans to continue protesting at games.
"The fact that they're now allowing me to protest peacefully, that means that we're getting somewhere,” he said.