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What High School Players Suspended Over Support for Police, Firefighters Can Teach the NFL

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/J. David Ake

The story is at first aggravating to hear but the more we learn about it the better the outlook for this country becomes. A pair of high school football players in Morrow, Ohio, ran out on the field before a game holding a Blue Lives Matter and Red Lives Matter flag. They were later suspended over the display, for introducing a political message to the game. It was a sign of pregame social signaling, and as we have come to learn there is a glaring set of double standards on such issues. 

For years we have been lectured that Colin Kaepernick and numerous other players who express themselves by protesting the national anthem deserve respect, but if fans express themselves saying they will protest by no longer watching the NFL they are called intolerant or racist. We should applaud a player like Kaepernick for his political views but if former player Herschel Walker lends support to Donald Trump he is called an "Uncle Tom" and told to pipe down. Kneeling for the anthem is praised, but Tim Tebow kneeling to pray in the end zone after a touchdown was bothersome.

The issue at the Little Miami High School gets more complex with the details, and it is more encouraging as well. Part of the suspension the two received was due to their having asked permission ahead of the game to carry the flags, but they had been told they could not do so. So yes, a violation can be pointed at as a cause. They were told that carrying the flags could lead to accountability. When asked about the suspensions the school superintendent Gregory Power explained the decision.

“We can’t have students who decide to do something anyway after they’ve been told that they shouldn’t be doing it,” said Power, noting that he saw the flags as symbols of a political point of view and didn’t want to set a precedent. “We did not want to place ourselves in a circumstance where another family might want a different flag to come out of the tunnel, one that may be [one that] many other families may not agree with from a political perspective,” Power explained.

The details make this more of a milquetoast response. The two players were not randomly choosing to bring the flags out -- they did so on September 11, in remembrance of the many lives lost on that fateful date. This calls back to the year when the NFL schedule fell on a September 11 Sunday. While there was praise and support from commissioner Roger Goodell for players kneeling in protest on that day there had been another display that drew a rebuke from the league. 

The commissioner, when asked about the anthem protests on the 9/11 anniversary, had declared that he did not think there was a problem with players kneeling. However, he did see a problem when a number of players announced they were going to lace up footwear commemorating the anniversary. It was announced they would be fined over a nebulous violation of the uniform policy. (Bear in mind, weeks later every team violated this policy by donning pink cleats and other clothing for breast cancer awareness month.) The players elected to wear the cleats anyway, willing to pay any fine which the league eventually relented from imposing after the rightful bad publicity it delivered.

This jolt of strong character was reflected in Little Miami, as the on-field flag gesture becomes more significant for each player. Brady Williams is the son of a police officer, and Jared Bently’s father is a firefighter. When both were asked about the politicized accusation they stated they saw this as honoring Americans who had lost lives. 

This is how twisted the priorities in some areas of this country have become. Had Brady and Jared been seen taking a knee to express a political point of view there is little doubt this would have been acceptable, if not even drawing praise and support. But showing respect and remembrance of the thousands who had lost lives is somehow unacceptably "political."

To their credit, both players understood the ramifications of their gesture and chose to go ahead and display their flags. “Listen,” Williams said. “I don’t care what my consequences are. As long as my message gets across, I’ll be happy.”

When high schoolers show more strength of conviction and character than a school district or professional sports league we need to start questioning where things are headed as a nation.


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