On Friday night, 12 football players from Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove kneeled during the national anthem – echoing the stance taken by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and some other NFL players to draw attention to racial inequality and police brutality.
Their action – and a photo showing them on bended knee before the non-league game against Placer High School – prompted a heated debate on social media. Some of those commenting on Facebook supported the players’ right to freedom of expression while others expressed outrage, deeming it disrespectful to the flag and the country.
During the game, parents of some of the players were heard pleading, “Stand up!”
Players and coaches at Laguna Creek have been quiet on the topic since Friday. Athletic Director Cory Clonce said in an email that he would not make anyone from the team available for comment, since the Elk Grove Unified School District said any comment should come through its official channels.
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The district this week said it would not discipline the players because they did not violate district policy. In response to questions from The Sacramento Bee, the district issued a statement saying it supports standing for the national anthem, but also supports students’ First Amendment rights.
“We support their right to peacefully express their opinion on a matter of personal significance. Those athletes who choose to respectfully and peacefully take a knee during the anthem do not violate any EGUSD or school rule and will not be disciplined in any way for such actions,” the statement said.
Other coaches in the area said their players have not expressed any desire to similarly protest, and Laguna Creek appears to be the only Sacramento-area school where players have done so. Some expressed concern that such a public display would distract players from the game itself. After its players’ demonstration, the Laguna Creek team went on to lose the game against Placer High, 49-0.
Franklin coach Mike Johnson, also of the Elk Grove district, said this is “a team sport and I’m not sure this is the right place to (have a protest).”
“If we’re preaching team, it should be all in or nothing. Are we all in or out? It’s not an individual sport.”
Johnson said he tries to encourage his players to get involved in causes they care about. “Create a club to create awareness, attend rallies, talk about it,” he said. “Just taking a knee, how much awareness does that bring to the cause? It has to be more than football. Get involved; that’s how we talk about it at our school.”