Maryland high school football team kneels during national anthem

- A Maryland high school football team took a knee during the national anthem on Friday night to protest racial injustice, following in the footsteps of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Watkins Mill High School football players took a knee during last week’s game as well. Players from one of their rival teams, Damascus High School, were among the team’s critics. On Friday night the two teams played each other and some were worried the game may have wound up turning violent due to the disagreement between the two teams.

Before the game started FOX 5’s Brody Logan caught up with Watkins Mill High Schools head coach, Michael Brown and asked why he thinks his team is doing this and what his take on the situation is.

Here is what he had to say:

“I was asked an hour before the game last week – ‘Coach? Can we take a knee during the national anthem?’ I sat for a couple minutes and thought about how to respond and I said ‘guys it is up to you, it is your constitutional right to do what you believe and I am not going to step in the way of that.’ So they decided to take a knee and they are doing it for the injustices that they feel is happening to the minorities – blacks in the United States of America – to bring awareness. My feeling is I stand for the national anthem, that is what I believe, but my belief is not more important than their belief. And they are young and we teach the kids to think outside the box and to stand for what you believe in – and they are doing that.”

Brown then proceeded to tell FOX 5 the conversation he had with his players, “I let them know, if you’re going to do that, know what you’re doing it for, don’t just go out there and do it and not have any idea why you are taking a piece of protest.” Brown also said that he informed the players that they are in the limelight now and they have to act accordingly.

The school has had town hall meetings twice this week speaking about the topic and what they plan to do going forward.

Coach Brown was also asked about the threatening message sent by a Damascus High School player, which reads: ‘Watkins Mill can disrespect my country all they want, but if they do it on my field there is going to be a price to pay.’ Brown said that the school principals have had a conversation with each other in regards to the message and that the Damascus High School principal sent an open letter explaining the differences in communities and trying to understand both sides.

Brown hopes that the conversation and movement make people become more empathetic on both sides – he does not believe the movement is a race issue. He stated, “it is not a black and white thing, I am black, white and it gives me a unique understanding of both sides of the race part of it that’s been added into it, I think unnecessarily, but with the national flag being disrespected – people have feelings for that and I understand on both sides, I really do get it.”

Brown was then asked if he believes the movement is creating any kind of change and if it is leading to anything positive, his response, “Currently has the change started to happen? No. I think the conversations are happening, and that is the important part.”

During warm ups before the game both teams met in the middle of the field to shake hands and to show sportsmanship.

The open letter sent out by Damascus High School principal, Jennifer Webster, reads:

Recently, a conversation has emerged about what the National Anthem means to different people and communities in the context of race relations in America. Some, including student athletes in Montgomery County schools, are participating in this conversation by kneeling or engaging in other silent protests during the performance of the National Anthem.  While not an easy conversation, this can be a great opportunity to learn from one another. If we listen to each other on this issue, we will grow in our ability to respect and understand diverse perspectives within our community.

One of the challenges we face is that each of us brings our own experiences and values to the discussion. Many in our community represent law enforcement, the military and the government. As such, we have our own authentic reactions to the idea of a silent protest during the National Anthem. We consider the playing of the anthem to be a moment of respect toward our nation and those who serve it. This feeling runs strong for many, and it may be fueled by some powerful experiences we have with service to our country.

At the same time, the student athletes who have chosen to kneel during the National Anthem have their own experiences with and perspectives on the current state of race relations in our nation. This leads me to want to ask them about their experiences to better understand what they see happening in our community.

It is important that we listen to understand all perspectives and that we engage one another in a respectful way. We must remember that one of the great things about our nation is that our Constitution guarantees us the right to protest. In this case, we have the right to choose whether we stand during the National Anthem. The right to both participate in and not participate in patriotic exercises is reinforced in the MCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities. Respecting this right is critical.

Damascus is a respectful, positive community. We have one of the best around! Let's show that whether we agree or disagree with the young men from Watkins Mill or other schools we will compete against this year, we respect one another's right to peacefully demonstrate our perspective.

Damascus High School ended up winning the game 52 to 14.

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