ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Bartram Trail High School finds itself in the middle of a national debate over kneeling during the national anthem.
For the past two weeks, some members of the school’s football team have kneeled during the playing of the national anthem. It happened at the game on Sept. 11 against Creekside and then at Friday’s game at Mandarin High School.
The display by some players has sparked intense debate on social media.
“That’s awful. I thought more people in this area had common sense, but I guess I was wrong," one commenter wrote.
Another wrote: “School board should withdraw all taxpayer money for all school activity for football for political demonstration.”
Other commenters disagreed, saying they did not feel the kneeling was disrespectful.
“Kneeling is a sign of respect in every other way until a few decide to jump on a narrative that isn’t even true,” a commenter said. “Those who kneel aren’t the ones causing the chaos. It is done in absolute silence and reverence.”
Kneeling during the national anthem has become a major flash point in sports since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting during it in 2016. Kaepernick later began to kneel during the anthem as a means to protest racial and social injustice in the country.
The kneeling conversation came to the forefront again this year with the high profile deaths of Black men and women, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Jacob Blake. All came by law enforcement officers or, in Arbery’s case, in the presence of a former law enforcement officer.
Silent protests during the anthem at the high school level, at least locally, have been slower to develop, but the turbulence of 2020 has made those more visible. Coaches locally have to find the balance of respecting the rights of their players, all the while knowing that the backlash has the potential to be intense.
Following the game on Sept. 11, the Bartram Trail head coach Darrell Sutherland put out a statement, which reads, in part, "In an effort to provide our players an opportunity to represent their family’s beliefs, celebrate the freedoms our country affords, and still pause in respectful unity during the National Anthem — we will have a multi-colored cord players can hold if they choose to.”
News4Jax reached out to Bartram Trail athletic director Ben Windle, who did want to clarify one misconception concerning the Sept. 11 game. He said team members “did not take a knee during the moment of silence for 9/11.”
Windle added the school supports “athletes’ First Amendment rights — both athletes and coaches.”