Six Auburn football players decided show solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by kneeling during the national anthem before a game on Sept. 9. The Illinois high school athletes are protesting what they believe to be the oppression and mistreatment of African-Americans in the United States.
Head football coach Dan Appino says that his players are respectfully and peacefully protesting an important cause. "The student athletes said they wanted to create more social awareness of racial injustice in America," he said in a statement, says CBS affiliate WIFR. "They made it clear that they did not intend to disrespect our military; rather, they wanted to embrace the freedom of expression and other constitutional rights that our military fought so hard to preserve."
Auburn isn't the only high school kneeling alongside Kaepernick. USA Today reports that high school football players across the country are protesting the anthem, turning what was once a one-man demonstration against police brutality into a national movement.
Many of the high schoolers reported that they chose to kneel not out of disrespect, but as a way to take a stand for social justice. Most of their coaches have been understanding and are not preventing them from peacefully protesting.
"We let our guys do what they believe in," said the coach of the Maury High football team in Norfolk, Virginia, whose players knelt in the end zone during the anthem. "And so we didn’t make an issue of it, and if they believe in a cause, that’s fine. I stand behind what they believe in, but I’m going to do what I believe in."
Back at Auburn High School, the athletic director plans to discuss the students' actions and come to an understanding.
"Auburn High School coaching staff and student athletes will discuss the team members’ actions and both the coaching staff and students’ thoughts of the national anthem in what we hope will be a meaningful dialogue," says Athletic Director Mat Parker, according to WIFR.
While the Auburn's coach isn't too happy about his students' protest, he refuses to stand in their way, saying that protesting the national anthem has become a movement bigger than himself or his tiny high school in Rockford, Illinois.
“This movement is sweeping the nation as a peaceful form of protest. I am not happy that football is being used as the platform for this protest, but I respect the passion our kids feel about this topic,” said Appino.