Nearly three dozen schools in a Louisiana parish were told by the superintendent that student athletes should not kneel during the national anthem.
The controversy began Thursday after Intercept reporter Shaun King tweeted out a memo from the principal of Bossier Parish’s Parkway High School saying students are required to stand or face consequences.
“Parkway High School requires student athletes to stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem during any sporting event in which their team is participating,” the memo by Principal Waylon Bates said. “Failure to comply will result in loss of playing time and/or participation as directed by the head coach and principal.”
The demand to stand comes after NFL players, coaches and owners across the country knelt in defiance of President Donald Trump’s attack on athletes for their peaceful protests over racial injustice.
“In Bossier Parish, we believe when a student chooses to join and participate on a team, the players and coaches should stand when our National Anthem is played in a show of respect,” Smith said. “It is a choice for students to participate in extracurricular activities, not a right, and we at Bossier Schools feel strongly that our teams and organizations should stand in unity to honor our nation’s military and veterans.”
Smith cited living in a “patriotic community” close to Barksdale Air Force Base as a reason to “pay homage to the American flag and stand during the National Anthem.” He said that he would leave the ultimate decision to principals and their coaching staff.
“As Superintendent, my administration will be in full support of these school-based decisions,” Smith added.
Smith, however, has failed to do some basic research. Respectful protests during the national anthem began when Colin Kaepernick, then a 49ers quarterback, took a knee in 2016 in protest of police brutality against primarily black citizens.
“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country,” Kaepernick said during an NFL media briefing. “There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change.”
The protest debate was sparked again when Trump blasted NFL players for taking a knee while simultaneously ignoring the more than 3 million Americans in Puerto Rico without power following Hurricane Maria. During a speech in Alabama, Trump remarked of NFL players kneeling: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.”
Trump’s remarks only emboldened players to unite in the protest. Last weekend, the majority of NFL teams saw players taking a knee during the national anthem. In a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey, 48 percent of Americans said they know the protests are about police brutality, not disrespecting the flag.
And yet more than 30 schools in Louisiana, ranging from elementary to high school, have been told students are expected to stand. It’s an issue that smells of lawsuits, with the ACLU already adamant that they will fight any school unwilling to let students express their First Amendment rights.
Backlash against other high school coaches demanding that players stand has been swift. On Tuesday, the head football coach for Tennessee’s West Creek High, James Figueroa, told The Tennessean that his players would have to stand for the anthem.
“We are not giving our kids the option to kneel,” Figueroa told the publication. “It’s not going to be an option. This is what our expectations are at West Creek High.”
Figueroa’s interpretation of American excellence was quickly derailed when Clarksville Montgomery School District, which oversees West Creek High, learned of his comments.
“He has been counseled about it,” spokeswoman Elise Shelton told HuffPost. “It’s federal law and [a student’s] right to do what they see fit. We weren’t aware of that till we saw it in the paper.”