About 150 NFL players took a knee — or protested in some other way — before or during the playing of the national anthem last Sunday. Many did it to protest or call attention to what they feel are instances of racial injustice or police brutality. Others did it to express solidarity with, or support for, fellow players.
“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel,” San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid wrote in a recent New York Times column. “We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
The national controversy has made for an engaging learning moment at local high schools this past week.
Maria Correale Mueller, an advanced placement U.S. government and politics teacher at Mason High School, said her students are closely watching and enthusiastically using the issue in their classroom discussions.
“My students take turns leading the class in the first five minutes with an update of the news from the previous 24 hours, so the attention the president brought to the NFL through (President Donald Trump’s) tweets has been primarily discussed in these student-led discussions so far,” said Mueller, a veteran teacher in the Warren County district that borders Butler County.
President Trump stated NFL owners should “fire or suspend” players who kneel when the Star-Spangled Banner is played. He added that many fans agreed and if the NFL doesn’t change then its business is “going to go to hell.”
“The politics of sports in the U.S. as a whole, and examples like this specifically, play an integral part of our course content on political socialization and political behavior,” Mueller said.
“Students have voiced support both for and against the players although they found general agreement against the idea of firing someone for expressing his or her beliefs in a peaceful manner,” she said.
Hot-button topics such as the anthem kneeling protests are “incredibly useful because they prompt student reflection and help students connect with and internalize what might otherwise be stale words on the textbook page. Connections between the content of my course and ‘real life’ are everywhere, but events like this enhance learning due to their personal and emotional provocation,” Mueller said.
The controversy is also top of mind for students in Tisha Grote’s advanced placement government class at Lakota East High School.
“I didn’t even have to bring it up,” she said. “They know it’s part of their world.”
“We made it part of the current events discussions in our class since the 1st Amendment (rights) have been on everybody’s mind. Overall, it seems they (students) are in favor of the NFL’s approach,” said Grote.
The issues raised are a good way for students to examine “the balancing test of an action by an individual or a group” weighed against the tradition of the national anthem at sporting events, she said.
College and high school sports officials in Butler County said they haven’t yet dealt with the kneeling controversy during the anthem.
During its athletic events, Edgewood High School is avoiding the political debate and controversy by “honoring the flag like we should be,” said Greg Brown, a second-year athletic director.
He hasn’t seen a need to address the issue with Edgewood coaches and players because that would only “bring more fire” to the controversy, he said. Instead, he believes the athletes and coaches will respect the flag during the national anthem.
He said during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, Edgewood’s football players remain in the locker room getting last-minute instructions from their coaches. Brown said high school players stand at attention during the national anthem at all other sporting events.
Dirk Allen, spokesman for Badin High School, also said the school has not had to deal with the issue with its student-athletes.
“At Miami as at most college football games, the players are still in the locker room when the national anthem is played. Also, no student-athletes have asked about taking a knee during this time,” said Claire Wagner, director of University News and Communications at Miami University.
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