• High school football players kneel during national anthem in protest

    By: Natasha Chen

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - The entire Garfield High School football team, along with half a dozen players from the West Seattle High School football team, knelt during the national anthem Friday night before their game.

    Garfield High School Football Coach Joey Thomas said their team wanted to act as one, after having conversations about social injustices, and how Colin Kapernick was being viewed in the media.

    “If these kids can be courageous enough to do this as kids, and they’re leading by example, what impact can you have?” Thomas said. “This is a high school team that is doing this. Where are all our other teams at? Where are all our colleges at? Where’s our University of Washington? Where’s our WAZZU?”

    Thomas said those who criticize the action for being disrespectful misunderstand what the action is about.

    He said that they respect people in the armed forces and people serving as officers around the nation. Their kneeling is a comment on the nation’s racial inequality.

    “This is not a disrespectful movement. That’s kind of a smokescreen not to deal with the issues,” he said.

    Thomas said any student could stand if they felt uncomfortable, and they were told they would still be loved and treated like a brother.

    Seattle Public Schools sent KIRO 7 this statement:

    “The District supports the individual and personal decision to stand, sit, or kneel during the National Anthem, but we ask all participants to honor the flag in a respectful manner. Students who choose to kneel during the national anthem are exercising their rights under the First Amendment. Seattle Public Schools supports students' rights to free speech.”

    The West Seattle High School team approached the conversation proactively, with coaches talking to the students before their game last Friday.

    West Seattle Assistant Coach Jeff Ursino said he did not want the students to feel any peer pressure, one way or the other. He said he encouraged them to really find out how they feel about the issue, then feel comfortable with the decision they make.

    “Some of (them) choose to stand for the same idea that would cause them to kneel. And we respect that their expression might look different than some of our expression. But in the end, we all share that same goal,” Ursino said.

    When asked whether he felt it disrespectful, he said it depends on what’s in the person’s heart.

    The student singing the national anthem, Kelsey Lenzie, said she saw the players kneeling as she sang.

    “As long as people are listening, and they know what I’m singing about, like, that’s all that matters,” she said.

    While some parents said they are in fully support of the action, other parents questioned whether the students knew the true meaning of their decision.

    “A lot of it’s more about the freedom and what people have done, and it’s more about the whole picture of the United States, and our freedom and what we stand for – and not just one small aspect,” said Donna Veenhuizen, a parent with the West Seattle Athletics Boosters.

    Next Up: