— Joey Thomas (@JT0200) September 16, 2016
The Central District’s high school football team is planning to join a number of professional and student athletes nationwide in an ongoing demonstration against racial injustice during the school’s Friday night game.
The Garfield Bulldogs will travel to West Seattle where the entire team has decided they will kneel for the national anthem and continue to do so for the rest of the season. Coach Joey Thomas tells CHS the decision came out of ongoing conversations the team has had about race and social injustice. Students were particularly motivated to do something after learning about the rarely recited third verse of the Star-Spangled Banner, Thomas said, which celebrates the killing of rebellious slaves.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is we have open and honest conversations about what is going on in this society,” Thomas said. “It led kids to talk about the social injustice they experience … and it led to coaches to talk about what we go though. We’re teaching life skills through sports.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting for the national anthem during the NFL’s preseason, sparking a national debate over the gesture. Kaepernick cited police brutality and the killing of unarmed African Americans as primary reasons for his demonstration. Thomas, whose father and grandfather served in the military, said those who argue the protest is disrespectful to service members are misinformed.
“It’s because they are over there fighting for our rights that we can stand for what we believe in,” he said. “It’s because of our military that we can have this silent protest.”
So far, Thomas said the 23rd Ave school has been supportive of the team’s plans. Given the fierce criticism professional athletes have faced for taking part in the protest, Thomas said he has told his players to defer any questions or complaints to him. Kickoff time for Friday’s game is 7 PM at the Southwest Athletic Complex.
“Ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country,” Kaepernick told reporters after first sitting for the anthem. “When there’s significant change, and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and that flag represents people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Seattle Reign player Megan Rapinoe has also taken part in the protest by kneeling while playing for the U.S. women’s national soccer team. The Seattle Seahawks were rumored to be considering joining the protest, but opted to link arms in a display of “unity” during the team’s season opener last week.
Located in the heart of Seattle’s African-American neighborhood, Garfield has a long history of political activism and has been at the center of many Black Lives Matter protests over the past year. Thomas said he is frustrated by those who criticize athletes for expressing their political beliefs as well.
“When athletes get in trouble, they say ‘he should stand for something,’” he said. “When athletes actually stand for something, people become hypocrites. People can’t have it both ways.”