NFL protest controversy enters high school athletics

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Athletes taking a knee during the national anthem has spread from former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick to local high schools. As the movement continues to expand into high school athletics, administrators seek to implement policy.

Jesuit High School has sent out a policy which embraces the values of education and respect, while simultaneously allowing free speech.

According to Jesuit Principal Paul Hogan, a discussion regarding protocol surrounding the requirements for Jesuit athletes began last fall when several local high school athletes decided to kneel. To date, no Jesuit athlete has protested during the national anthem, although a few opposing teams have had players kneel.

Although the kneeling is a non-violent action protesting the inequalities of social injustice, many Americans view it as a sign of disrespect to our country and the people who serve in the armed forces.

After President Donald Trump voiced his disapproval of the protests, taking issue with NFL players not standing during the anthem, an increased awareness of the protests has made what happens before the game a larger story than the game itself.

With a strong commitment to the Jesuit mission statement that students remain respectful and adhere to the traditions and rules, the administration formed a policy that allows students to meet with administrators if they want to protest. The policy is based on showing respect for the national anthem while remaining well-informed on current issues.

Athletic Director Mike Hughes says, “The first part of our statement says that we stand for the national anthem; that is our expectation for teams. However, we also support what in Catholic language is called the primacy of conscience: if a student, in good conscience, believes this is something I need to do for the sake of my faith or my convictions on human rights, we will support that student and there will be no consequences.”

Students are expected to meet with the athletic director or the principal if they plan to protest during the national anthem. The purpose of the meeting is for the athletes to demonstrate they are making a well-informed decision to protest. A few athletes have met with Mr. Hughes, but none have gone on to protest.

“I think if we listen to one another and hear the perspectives of people who feel they have the need to express concern about a social injustice by kneeling, or people who feel that taking a knee is disrespectful and that people should stand in attention with their hands over their hearts, those people can learn from one another. But not if it is a Twitter war or a social media storm,” Principal Hogan says.

Across the nation there have been instances in which athletes have been kicked off teams because of their participation in the protest. In Texas, two boys were kicked off their football team. Whereas in Fannin County, GA one team had the players carry American flags while taking the field before the game.

Locally, many high schools want their athletes to be informed about what they are protesting. Some public schools allow athletes to kneel if they wish with no questions asked. However as students at a private school, Jesuit students have less access to First Amendment rights.

Principal Hogan feels that kicking athletes off their team is an extreme form of punishment, and is unnecessary. Hogan says,“I don’t think that teaches students to reason through their own purpose for trying to express themselves. I think it is a blunt instrument and what it teaches is about power and authority.”

Recognizing that some students may not want to meet with the administrators, Principal Hogan says, “There may be kids who say they don’t want to go in and talk to the AD; well, then, how strongly do you really feel?”

Within the policy it is stated that, “Equality, social justice, freedom of speech, and honoring our nation are important issues with which our nation has historically wrestled and which we continue to explore. As a Jesuit school, we are proud to guide our students as together we seek to navigate this evolving issue.”