Garfield Football Players Will Kneel During National Anthem to Protest Racial Oppression

by Marcus Harrison Green

They’re not followers.  They’re leaders.

That’s the story Garfield High School Football players wish to have told after their planned action tonight just prior to their league opener against West Seattle High.

 At 7pm the national anthem will begin to play, and as most in attendance at Southwest Athletic Complex will rise reflexively to honor the American flag as soon as those familiar notes pierce their ear drums, each young man on Garfield High School’s Varsity football team with remove his helmet. He will   then kneel in unison next to a teammate to silently protest the ongoing racial oppression and systemic injustice taking place in the United States.

Some might attempt to dismiss their actions as blind, juvenile copycatting of those taken by San Francisco 49ers backup Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But others, such as the Seattle Reign’s Megan Rapinoe, will understand. She is one of many athletes to stand in solidarity with Kaepernick in his ongoing refusal to rise for the national anthem as not “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.”

However, their demonstration, planned by and agreed to by all of the football team without any coaxing from adults represents something more than simply the latest emulation of a professional athlete. It represents in them something far superior, an awakening of their own agency as human beings to tell their truth through action.

This is what I learned from visiting the Project Mister, a college and career readiness, class taught by Garfield’s Head Football Coach Joey Thomas.

What began as a career day talk, where my nerdish fetishism for journalism induced instant comas, morphed into an education on the power of telling your own story, with actions, rather than words.

Struggling for a microbe of participation from the dozen football players gathered in the room, I asked the class what came to mind when they heard the word “media.”

After a chorus of chirping crickets, a few brave souls finally spoke up.

Their answers murdered a bit of pride inside about my own industry, as all responses were met with agreeable heads nods from the rest of the group.

“It never tells the truth about our community.”

“They always report the bad.”

“I never read it… ever.”

The last fact was evident when I asked for a show of hands on who had heard of outlets other than the Seattle Times and the South Seattle Emerald. Vacant, quizzical stares met me as I ticked off a list of local news outlets.

Even with that, the response that stood out the most was:

“They don’t understand us.”

To them, media is a collection of reporters who write nothing about them, who know nothing about them, and frankly don’t care to.

It was this same media on Monday afternoon that reported the shooting of a 17 year old teen near their school, misidentifying the victim as a Garfield student, in addition to the location where he was actually shot.

In a rush to get “the fast story” many ended up reporting the “half-ass story” instead.

The students knew that associating the shooting of the young man, who actually did not go to Garfield, with their community would have reflected poorly not only on their school, but also on each of them.

“They’ll paint all of us as negative.  Anything bad that happens here is always in the paper, but there’s people who bring guns to Ballard High and that never gets reported. Someone called in a fake story about a woman having a gun outside on the football field and that was reported” a young man said.

“Mr. Green”, one of them asked me, “if the news is fake why do people still believe it?”

Before I could answer another member of the class made a through line to the plight of the scrutiny given by the very same media to a certain maligned 49er quarterback and seemingly anyone else seeking to trail his footsteps.

They watched Kaepernick, and the other athletes who followed suit have racist verbal venom spewed on them, in a refusal, an abject refusal to have the story, of what it means to live in this country individually and collectively as these students do as non-members of this country’s dominant group.

Such is a story that continues to go unheard, unseen and unrealized.

 “What they’re saying about him isn’t fair,” one student said, as others shook their heads in affirmation.

Why didn’t the news ever ask why someone of African Descent (or for that matter anyone non- cisgendered, straight, white or a male) would desire to stand for an ode to a country written by a slave holding, misogynist, during a time slavery was codified in law, women had no right to vote, and indigenous members were murdered with indemnity.

The media rarely asked if the controversial third verse of the star spangled banner, which is rarely sung, is truly racist. It was the football players themselves asking that question and what catalyzed their protest.

No one asked the question to what Kaepernick was proposing: Are people oppressed in the country?

No one wants to acknowledge the full story of what it is to be treated as irrelevant by this country, as a surplus populace, wanted only for entertainment or quota fillers.

For the students in Wednesday’s class, that irrelevancy comes when your lived experience is absent or incomplete from anything read or seen, making it impossible to be fully understood when other’s attempt to tell your story.

Such was the awaking experienced that afternoon, as once glazed over eyeballs, now burned with enlightened passion as to what it means to force people who have cordoned your concerns to the underground realm of triviality, to acknowledge those concerns have now surfaced to daylight.

I have no doubt they understood “why” they were doing Friday’s action, but I’m not sure until then they knew “what” it was they were truly doing: ensuring truth is told, by actively being the teller of it, not only in words which can be shredded down by those spoken by others, but in action, which can only be suffocated by bolder actions.

It was their discovery in that classroom, that actions craft a story far more nuanced and profound than mere words can.

It was the epiphany that actions, properly executed, speak not only to character, but also as a siren to the state of a society when it refuses to acknowledge its failings.

And this newfound capacity to act, belonging to them, could yes be misinterpreted, and misconstrued in the eyes of others, but it could only be ignored for so long. That was the living lesson taught to them by Kaepernick, this man who actions drowned out the words of his critics, who could do nothing to mount a defense except pile up a mountain of more words, which he continually overcame.

The man who inspired them to ask, why does he refuse to stand? And if he, why not we? Why can’t our actions change the course of this society, get people to talk, get people to change, and maybe, just maybe change what is believed about them?

These youth have chosen not to accept being passive victims, used as caricatures to color in a story they never wished to have told in the first place.

News of the youth’s plans has already inspired some of their elders.

“I’m so very proud that these young athletes have the courage of their conviction that many adult athletes have yet to show,” said Dustin Washington, Director of American Friends Service Committee’s Community Justice Program, who does community organizing training for local youth.

Washington joined many in Seattle’s organizing community in expressing disappointment with Sunday’s demonstration by the Seahawks, when the team locked arms in unity during the national anthem. Some called it nothing more than personification of the “All Lives Matter” movement that seeks to draw attention away from racial oppression in the United States.

“Friday should give us all hope that our youth are standing up for justice in the spirit of Ali and many other conscious athletes,” he concluded.

That’s the story those young men wish to tell, that in order to stand, sometimes life requires you to kneel.

Update: Since this article was originally published, Garfield High Football Players have pledged to continue their protest for the remainder of the season and have released the following statement:

Recently Garfield High School’s football team took a knee at an evening game. In an effort to clarify their position and better articulate the thought behind it, Garfield’s Football Team held an inclusive meeting yesterday to put the team’s position into writing.

Garfield Football Team – We have increasingly heavy hearts over various issues that have been escalating in the media.
Many of us have been touched in some way in our own personal lives by racism, segregation and bias.

Through a series of open, honest and supportive conversations we have reached a team consensus and understanding.
We have unanimously decided to take a position as a team and work towards a better future together. We are going to demonstrate this decision through taking a knee at our games.

We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.

At this time, the Garfield High School Football Team is especially concerned with the following:

  1. Equality for all regardless of race, gender, class, social standing and/or sexual orientation – both in and out of the classroom as well as the community.
  2. Increase of unity within the community. Changing the way the media portrays crime. White people are typically given justification while other minorities are seen as thugs, etc.
  3. Academic equality for students. Certain schools offer programs/tracks that are not available at all schools or to all students within that school. Better opportunities for students who don’t have parental or financial support is needed. For example, not everyone can afford Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees and those who are unable to pay those fees, are often not encouraged to enroll into those programs. Additionally, the academic investment doesn’t always stay within the community.
  4. Lack of adequate training for teachers to interact effectively with all students. Example, “Why is my passion mistaken for aggression?” “Why when I get an A on a test, does the teacher tell me, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could pull that off.’”
  5. Segregation through classism.
  6. Getting others to see that institutional racism does exist in our community, city, state, etc.

In an effort to find solutions and create impactful change, Garfield Football is stepping forward as leaders within the Garfield Community and Seattle. As a first step towards finding solutions, Garfield Football will be pursuing the following:

  1. Meetings with the local police leaders to share personal experiences and hear from officers and leaders on what their experience is and what changes we might be able to work together on.
  2. Meetings with students in classes where diversity is lacking. Speaking at assemblies and with local youth groups and/or programs.
  3. Meetings with school staff to include teachers and administration. Embarking on open dialogue about what triggers the negative experiences and interactions.

Garfield Football has set a course of action and we will see it through. Together United and Garfield Strong.
Our Garfield Football mandate is TOP. Totally Optimizing Potential and we will demonstrate TOP both on the field and off.

Editor’s Note:  Coach Thomas asked that the names of his students be kept anonymous for the sake of their privacy.

Marcus Harrison Green is the editor-in-chief of the South Seattle Emerald. Follow him on Twitter @mhgreen3000

 Photo by Heidi King Photography

22 thoughts on “Garfield Football Players Will Kneel During National Anthem to Protest Racial Oppression”

  1. Hi Marcus and SSE, I just wanted to see if there’s anything that we as a community or that South Seattle Emerald specifically is doing/can do to support those Seahawks who do want to protest, or actions like this in the future? I would love to be involved and I see SSE as a leader!

    1. The absurdity of high school students kneeling as a statement for racial oppression brings the attention to the failures of a liberal based school system. Citizens who Stand up, vote, contribute to the voice of democracy and defend the freedoms of our country have the right to change our society. Kneeling protesters will change nothing.

      1. I think that the protesters are just not thinking. Our country is the most fair and non prejudiced country in the world and those players should grow up and appreciate what they have.

      2. In my humble view, students who peacefully (and collectively) demonstrate their thoughtful exception to regimented, automatic procedures ARE demonstrating their individual rights to question and reject ritualistic “crowd” process in favor of respectful descent. I APPLAUD THE GROUP AND INDIVIDUAL PROCESS THAT FOSTERS SUCH THOUGHTFUL ACTIONS by young people who are demanding a voice in a country that “prides” itself on “individual expression.” When will educated adults “practice what they preach.”

      1. Have you ever been a minority in this country? Have you or any family member been stop by authorities (police) for no apparent reason? Have ever been told that you don’t belong here or you must have done something illegal because you drove a nice fancy car? I have experience each of the above mentioned scenarios. My late father (which was a deputy chief of police), my three brothers ( which two served their country in the military), and my three sons (one of which also served this Country) all have been stop by the authorities for no apparent reason. Therefore, 100% of the African American males in my immediate family have been stop. Is this aquacident? I think not! Have you ever had to set your children down and explain to them what to say (respond), how to keep their hand visible when stop by authorities? With that said I will respect the symbols of my country and its meaning when the meaning of it applies to me too! Instead of chastising these young men, why don’t talk to them to get an understanding of what they are trying convey. Or does the the 1st amendment only apply to those who express them in the way which only meets your approval?

  2. Kudos to these young men for doing what they feel is right.

    Here is my 2 cents for all it is worth. People need to really look at themselves and decide if they are angry and voicing their opinions for the right reason. I posted this comment on another discussion of this. I will also post my reply to another vet who disagreed with me just to give you more of my logic.

    I know I served so that people would be able to freely express themselves and have their own opinions, even if they may differ from mine. If they wanna sit, I say sit, I don’t see how it is any different then all the people at home who watch the sporting events and don’t stand either. It is funny how people speak for veterans, but have not served. But hey, we fought for your right to speak as well. I would rather see someone sit in protest of the flag and national anthem then destroy their neighborhoods, block streets, hurt each other and be disrespectful to those of differing opinions. I don’t know how we have become so closed minded as a society and that someone is automatically wrong if their beliefs and opinions differ from ours. This is a country built on sacrifice and love by the few, for everyone that wants the freedoms that we fought for. Which means no one opinion is superior to any other.

  3. Here is my reply to a fellow vet who disagreed…used asterisks for her name as a courtesy. I still stand by both statements.

    Sorry ****** **** I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. I for one never said that I didn’t view the flag and anthem as symbols of hope. To me the freedoms I fought for are for everyone and everyone is allowed to voice opinions different than mine. Who am I to state and decide that the life that someone has lived, the truth that they live is wrong or inaccurate. The flag has not always been used as a symbol of hope and prosperity. For many many years the flag, our flag, the one we fought for was used as a symbol of hate. And those that perpetrated that hate under our flag beat, raped and murdered people of color. So this is the truth that many live with, and if they find it a symbol of hate and oppression then who am I to say their truth is not valid. I fought so that others might be afforded the benefits of a free society and to have the opportunities that we take for granted. I will never stand by and try to take anything away from anyone, especially their voice and there right to disagree. If I was to do that I would be no better than the people who used our flag to oppress others they felt were too different based on their skin color. I will always stand for people and their right to feel their feelings, voice their truth and peacefully protest as they wish. That is to truly uphold freedom for everyone .

  4. Why are you promoting rebellious teenagers who disrespect our service men and women who died to give us our freedom? That’s what our flag represents! Where is this so called oppression? It’s black people that promote the victim mentality on each generation and teach their children lies about how white people owe them something. Not anyone else! The Seahawks didn’t protest! They stood up for our country and for the freedoms we have! So let’s stop promoting the negative and start promoting the positive things these young people are capable of accomplishing.

  5. I honor these players. As a combat vet, I see you guys fulfilling the duty of citizens to uphold ‘Liberty and Justice for All’. You are; as citizen-warriors, risking your reputations, carreers, and friendships. That’s integrety, courage and love of our greater values. You are building for ‘We the People… a more Perfect Union’. Proud of You! Go Bull Dogs!

    We played Garfield in the Metro League, from 1960-63. I am an alumni
    and former linebacker of the Shoreline Spartens.

    Yours in the struggle for democracy,
    Charley Knox – Combat Medic/LRRP
    1/508 RCT (ABN), 1/187 RCT (ABN)

    1. I am the widow of a Vietnam combat vet , demolitions engineer, with the 4th ID 67-69 Pleiku. Also the child of a Marine who served his whole life in the Marines. You Charley, are disgusting and should be ashamed of yourself. I also know a man, now deceased, who was an LRRP, and I know he would denounce you. When and where did you serve, btw?

      1. Prtyfed… First and foremost, my deepest respect for you and your Marine. The sorrow that war brings is still on us. I know this grief.

        Volunteered in 1963. My LRRP unit: H’n H – 1/187 PIR-RDF (Rapid Deployment Force) 82ndABN. ’64. I served and survived in DomRep’65, combat ‘Op – PowerPack’: H’nH – 1/508thPIR-RDF, 82nd ABN. I was awarded the combat medic badge and the expeditionary medal on this Op. Honorably Discharged as E-5 in 1966.

        My word, my VA combat group and the VA are 3 of many that vouchsafe my service.

        Again, we share the pain of war. And, we are presumably of similar age. We love our flag and the constitution because they are exceptional.

        Your Marine and I took an Oath to uphold that very Constitution. The 1st ammendment is one of our most cherished elements in our Constitution. And, that is the other reason I take a knee in humble, respectful and considered action; as do the Bulldogs.

        Yours Respectfully, Charley Knox

  6. As a tax paying Veteran I feel like you just spit on my Fathers and the rest of the Veterans graves in total disrespect by not showing respect to the symbol of our great nation. You want to protest and show your pubescent balls son… you are entitled to that, you just pick the wrong time. before or after??? no problem two thumbs up as long as no one gets hurt. but in the middle of the anthem? That just shows what children you still are, as none of you I bet are dreaming of joining the military, nopen you only dream of getting into the college of your choice and getting your pro career in ball.

    I am sad that this is what Seattle has come to. it used to be a great Military respecting City, may as well wipe your butts with the flag while you are at it there girls. ~ Tony

    1. You, sir, are making broad assumptions about what these young people strive to achieve (“none of you I bet are dreaming of joining the military, [nope] you only dream of getting into the college of your choice and getting your pro career in ball.” That is exactly what they are talking about…you’re presuming to tell their narrative without knowing them. You don’t know if they want to serve in the military, if they want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, or scientists. You ASSume that they want to play pro ball? Thank you for serving, but you need to take a moment and really check yourself on your stereotypes and ask if you are a part of the problem.

  7. This is a joke. Now the disrespect to our country has move to our youth. Nice job NFL/Soccer, etc. pampered overpaid role models. Way to screw things up and pass along the disrespect to our country/flag. You seriously need to get your act together and find another form of protest. Everyone involved just looks more and more stupid by continuing on with this. Finally do the right thing… stand and show this country/flag the respect it deserves and stop acting like a but of spoiled children.

    1. I love how people who are pissed about the protest hang their objections on the disrespect to America and say nothing of America’s disregard and disrespect for the lives of people of color. If you are truly concerned about honoring this country, put that angst toward building a country we can all be proud of, a country where black mothers aren’t afraid to let their sons walk down the street, a country where the lives of people who look like me are valuable enough to warrant justice. I am happy to stand for a flag that truly represents the land of the free, but America has to earn that respect by living up to the hype and it hasn’t. Your objections are simply a misuse of patriotism to attempt to silence young people who are challenging us all to do better. Let’s put the focus back where it belongs.

  8. If my kid showed this disrespect to our country and those who have died serving it, they wouldn’t be on this team and probably taken out of the school. My husband died serving this country, my father was in the Marines all of his life, and I have friends who have served. Shameful following rather than leading. Parents should be ashamed and the school is disgustingly shameful.

  9. That’s so disrespectful to all that have served our country. Whoever their coach is to allow this should be fired. An organized effort to divide this country should not be encouraged or tolerated. Shame on this school.

  10. I could not be prouder of these young men. This is how we will stop racial oppression, and foster understanding between all people, regardless of the amount of pigment in their skin. This statement is not meant to be disrespectful to the flag. It is meant to show solidarity, and it is a peaceful protest, against racial discrimination. Anyone who reads more into this statement needs to lighten up.

    Much love and respect to these young men and their coaches. Remember, not everyone will agree with your opinion, or your statement. It is yours to give, and your right to be heard. Stand tall and proud of who you are, what you believe in, and what you represent.

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