Two cousins were dismissed from their private high school football team after protesting against racial injustice during the national anthem. The students' coach asserted that their gestures were disrespectful towards U.S. military veterans.
On Sept. 29, 18-year-old Larry McCullough and 16-year-old Cedric Ingram Lewis were removed from the Victory and Praise Christian Academy's football team after they protested during the national anthem in Crosby, Texas.
As the anthem played on, McCullough kneeled while his cousin Lewis raised his fist into the air. Ronnie Mitchem, the coach of the Victory and Praise Sharks, swiftly kicked them off the team.
"Before every game, we always pray and then say the anthem," McCullough explained to KPRC2. "At the game, I decided to stay on my knee, rather than say the anthem."
Lewis recalled that he instantly knew he and his cousin would be dismissed from the team.
"I pretty much knew how [Mitchem] looked at us when I was holding my fist up and my cousin was kneeling," Lewis said.
"[Mitchem] told us that disrespect will not be tolerated," Lewis told the Houston Chronicle. "He told us to take off our uniform and leave it there."
Mitchem ordered the two players to remove their jerseys before their teammates and the attending crowd.
"I really felt humiliated, to have to undress in front of everyone there," McCullough told KHOU-TV. "From my pads to my pants, in front of everyone."
The two students, who are African-American, said they felt compelled to protest against racial injustice after dozens of NFL football players knelt during the anthem.
"I wasn't trying to disrespect the flag," McCullough said. "It was really showing the injustice for black people, all the stuff that's going on in the NFL, stuff like that, so I feel I need to be a part of it, too," McCullough said.
Mitchem, who is a former U.S. Marine and currently a pastor, stated that he had given the players prior warning that they would be dismissed from the team if they protested during the anthem.
"That just doesn't fly and they knew that," Mitchem said. "I don't have any problem with these young men. We've had a good relationship. They chose to do that and they had to pay for the consequences."
The coach added "I don't want people disrespecting the veterans in that Shark uniform."
Rhonda Brady, Lewis' mother, blasted Mitchem for how he handled the incident, asserting that she would not want her son and nephew to return to the team even if they were invited back.
"A man with integrity and morals and ethics and who truly lives by that wouldn't have done anything like that," Brady said. "Actions speak louder than words. So, for him to do what he did, that really spoke volumes and I don't want my kids or my nephew to be around a man with no integrity."