As national anthem kneeling reaches Iowa high school football, opinions vary

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Brian White is a football coach and a government teacher, vocations he never figured would be as intertwined as they are right now.

Athletes kneeling during the national anthem has been a divisive topic in this country, not to mention a topic of discussion in White’s government classes at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School.

“It is such a slippery slope. I’m a government teacher, and, man, I am a champion of the United States Constitution,” White said. “As an independent and as a government teacher, it is my job to see both sides of an argument. The people that find it offensive that anyone would (kneel), I think they find it offensive because they hold such high regard for this flag, this object ... I get that completely.

“But, in my opinion, that does not (supersede) an American’s right of free speech. We have to hold that dear. Once we start with the censorship stuff, once we start censoring, where does it stop? Where is the government going to draw the line? As a coach, I want my kids to be able to express themselves, certainly.”

The kneeling debate took a local and ugly turn last weekend when a Clear Creek Amana football player was the subject of a racist social media post from a schoolmate after deciding to take a knee before a recent game. Darius Moore said he knelt to protest racial and social injustice and inequality before a game two weeks ago at West Delaware, though his team was behind the scoreboard at the time and not actually on the field.

The racist Snapchat post sent during Clear Creek Amana’s home game last week against Marion circled Moore — who is part Native American and part African American — and said “kick this (expletive) (N word) off the football team like honestly who the (expletive) kneels for the national anthem.” The CCA school district condemned it and supported Moore’s decision to kneel under the First Amendment.

“I’m really appalled at what happened, but it’s not like the first time for us,” said Moore’s mother, Marisa Cummings. “We have been experiencing this for a long, long time. I can tell you each of the incidents with each of my (four) kids. Each time they’ve had to cry to me and tell me what has happened, when someone was hateful to them. I really pity the young man who did that, and I hope he can have a change of heart. The positive that has come out of this are all the allies that have come forward.”

Local school districts seem to be united in allowing students the right to kneel during the anthem, as long as the individual protest is done peacefully.

“Our district has issued a statement similar to that of Clear Creek Amana,” said Mount Vernon Activities Director Matt Thede. “It is with our best intent to support the free exchange of ideas embodied by the First Amendment. We will not tolerate any harassment or bullying of any student who may be attacked by another student for engaging in acts of free expression that are protected by the First Amendment.”

“We believe it is a student’s right to kneel or otherwise exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and expression in a manner that does not disrupt the event,” said Iowa City West Activities Director Craig Huegel.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District has issued a directive with similar thought.

When it comes to the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, things are a bit different. During regular-season contests in volleyball, for instance, the IGHSAU said it is up to the host school to decide if kneeling during the anthem is appropriate.

But during postseason and state tournament contests, the union considers kneeling to be inappropriate.

“Presentation of the national anthem shall be made before the first match of the (state tournament) session,” the IGHSAU’s volleyball postseason manual states. “Players are expected to conduct themselves in a quiet and attentive manner until the anthem is FULLY completed.”

The IGHSAU and IHSAA co-created a “Flag Etiquette” manual it distributed to member schools, in which expectations are for those in attendance — students, participators and spectators — at an event to “stand at attention, face the flag and place their right hand (palm open) over their heart.”

IHSAA Executive Director Alan Beste said the association sent an email to member schools last year that included the manual but also a statement that it would never infringe on anyone’s right to freedom of expression.

“Our position remains the same,” Beste said this week in an email. “It is our hope that school administrators and coaches use these opportunities as teachable moments. This should not be about mimicking collegiate or professional athletes, but about discussing why individuals feel so strongly on both sides of the issue. The purpose of education-based athletics is to teach students how to become responsible adults, and flag etiquette is certainly part of that.”

The national anthem is played at most high school football games, at least in the Metro, while teams still are in their locker rooms. That will change once the postseason commences.

If Cedar Rapids Washington is a part of those playoffs, head coach Maurice Blue said he will talk to his team about kneeling and did not think he would allow it. Blue is the first African American head football coach in Metro history and comes from a school with a large minority population.

“Personally, I get where (Moore) is coming from, but I wouldn’t let our guys do that,” Blue said. “I’ve got hindsight. Being 42 gives you some hindsight. He is doing what he thinks is right, and I’m not in any position to say whether he is or whether he is not. He does have a right to express himself, but I don’t know what the right way is (to protest). The right way might mean different things to different people.”

“In my opinion, it’s just sad that it’s become more of a political thing,” said Cedar Rapids Prairie Coach Mark Bliss, who comes from a family with several military members. “The national anthem, in my opinion, was never to be used on the political stage to where you protest your beliefs. That’s just my opinion. And, you know what, everyone has their opinion and are entitled to their opinion.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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