When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem before a preseason game on Sept. 1, senior Vincent Kao was shocked.
“I couldn’t believe someone was actually doing this,” Kao said. “Because the conventional thing is to stand up and respect your country, and I didn’t think someone would actually end up sitting down.”
Kaepernick decided to drop to his knee during the anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. As soon as his actions became known, the public was quick to take sides. Some applauded Kaepernick for taking a bold stance on racial issues. Others criticized him for disrespecting the flag and the military and for taking his opportunities for granted. But the past few weeks have seen a series of police shootings of black men in Charlotte, N.C., Tulsa, Okla., and El Cajon, Calif., and this has only strengthened the support for Kaepernick’s protest.
Kaepernick wasn’t kneeling alone for long. All across the country, at all levels, athletes are following his lead. From the national soccer field to the high school volleyball court or the youth football field, many are standing behind Kaepernick. San Francisco’s Mission HS football team decided to kneel in protest. Oakland’s Castlemont HS football team lied down on their backs with their hands in the air while Kaepernick kneeled beside them. And when the MVHS football team played Jefferson HS on Sept. 9, Kao saw a player on the opposing team briefly take a knee at the start of the national anthem before standing back up.
Some, like junior Joyce Chen, support Kaepernick’s protest and the high school athletes who have joined him.
“I don’t think the level or the age matters because it’s all the same idea,” Chen said. “They all bring awareness to this issue of the social injustices that happen to people of color.”
But Kao has never considered kneeling during the anthem. To him, that’s crossing the line. Although he agrees with Kaepernick’s intention, it’s the treatment towards the flag and the anthem that he doesn’t agree with.
“When I think about this, I focus on future generations,” Kao said. “Can you imagine kids watching TV and [seeing]someone just kneeling or sitting down? And you have to expect their parents to explain that — I don’t know how they’ll be able to do that.”
Although many disagree with the protest, the movement has gained traction at many high schools. Assistant principal Nico Flores believes that the high school protests are meaningful only if the students involved understand the protest. At MVHS, if any of the football players decided to kneel, Flores hopes that there’d be some conversation behind the action among players, coaches and administrators.
“Like if we want to do this, what’s the outcome? What is it that we really want to accomplish?” Flores said. “And have those thoughtful conversations before just doing it on their own and having no real premise behind it. Except for, ‘Well Kaepernick’s doing it.’ To me that doesn’t send the same message.”
Kaepernick’s protest has also brought up another question — why do we play the national anthem before sporting events? And why, at MVHS, is it played regularly only before football games?
“I think it’s something that reminds us at the beginning of a game that it is a game. And that we are part of something bigger,” Flores said. “And I just think it’s an opportunity for people to, for just a moment, for 2 minutes and 12 seconds, reflect on what it means to be an American.”
As far as why the anthem is only played at football games, the venue — the crowds and the band — make it easier for it to be done. For most other sports at MVHS, the national anthem is only played before playoff games.
Regardless of whether Kaepernick’s actions are considered right or not, his protest has been spreading awareness at an unprecedented magnitude. All across the country, Americans are being forced to reconsider race and privilege.
“It’s really good to spread awareness, especially since we live in Cupertino and so we’re not really exposed to people of color much,” Chen said. “And so I think that’s one of the main things that is getting those people who aren’t really exposed to those issues.”