Orange County

Could national anthem protests spread to local high school sports events?

Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. AP

It’s a personal choice if high school student-athletes in some local districts want to take their political views to the field.

The Durham Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Chatham County Schools don’t have policies that address those issues, their spokesmen said Monday.

“Nor do we attempt to influence our student-athletes one way or the other,” CHCCS spokesman Jeff Nash said. “It is entirely a student decision on whether to stand or kneel.”

The N.C. High School Athletic Association also doesn’t have a policy, leaving it up to each school or district how to address those issues, spokesman James Alverson said. Association officials who feel strongly about participating aren’t disciplined, he said.

“We don’t prevent anybody from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Alverson said. “Our job is really to protect people’s rights, their safety and security regardless of who they are – whether they’re game officials or players. Safety and security are our first priorities.”

Durham spokesman Chip Sudderth said Superintendent Bert L’Homme addressed the issue last fall in a statement that reminded parents, students and staff the district values freedom of speech and expression and protects them “as long as they do not disrupt the academic environment.”

“We are working to help our students respect each others’ rights to speech and expression that may disagree within shared space,” L’Homme said. “We will continue to open our athletic events with the anthem to honor our nation. We will also honor our athletes’ First Amendment right to stand or kneel as their consciences dictate.”

Athletic directors for both high schools in the Orange County Schools district could not be immediately reached for comment. The district policy does not require students to participate in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It does not address the anthem.

Chatham County Schools policy also doesn’t require students to stand when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited in class, spokesman John McCann said, but it doesn’t directly address the national anthem. He hadn’t heard any rumors that students might be planning to protest at Friday’s football games, he said

From left, San Francisco 49ers Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before their NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 2, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Nhat V. Meyer TNS

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement when he took a knee last year during the national anthem before preseason NFL games. He cited police brutality and racial injustice in refusing to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick has gone unsigned since leaving the 49ers in March.

But his protest spread to other professional athletes, and to high school and college sports. Many responded last fall with their own displays of protest, including in North Carolina, where the soccer team at Fayetteville’s Seventy-First High School; referees; and UNC students and marching band members raised their fists or took a knee before athletic events.

President Donald Trump added fuel to the fire last week when he commented on Kaepernick’s stand at an Alabama rally. Trump then demanded that team owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem and called for fans to boycott the NFL.

NFL players from 28 teams took a knee or locked arms in silent protest this weekend during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” adding to the debate online and in local communities about what it means to be a patriot and whether political protests belong on the field.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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