Several members of the Lawrence High School marching band took a cue from professional sports and took a knee while performing the national anthem at Friday night’s football game.
At least seven band members and one cheerleader knelt in the minutes leading up to kickoff at the Lawrence High football stadium, where the Chesty Lions faced off against Olathe South.
Rollin Love, an LHS senior who participated in the protest, said he knelt in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose original protest over racial inequality in 2016 has since inspired countless others across professional, college and youth sports.
“Rarely are they ever indicted — and even less than that are they ever convicted,” Love said, referring to accounts of police officers shooting unarmed black men.
Love, who was crowned as LHS homecoming royalty (the school adopted gender-neutral homecoming titles earlier this fall) at last week’s football game, was joined by fellow clarinet player J’Den Nichols.
Nichols, like Love, was protesting Friday against police brutality, she said.
“I just think it’s unfair how people of color are treated by the police, and how our country ignores it,” said Nichols, a senior. “On the marching band, we kind of represent the school, and we need to take a stand on this issue.”
She said the band members had planned their protest well in advance of Friday night’s game. Their band director, Mike Jones, wasn’t involved or even aware of the protest beforehand, Nichols said.
The kneeling began a few moments into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and was so subtle — only a handful of students knelt among the formation of 140-some band members — that several LHS fans told a Journal-World reporter that they hadn’t even noticed the display.
But Betsy Hart, who attended the game with her husband, didn’t mince words when expressing her opinion.
“I hate it,” she said. “I think it’s disrespectful to the country, to the flag.”
Hart, an Ohio resident passing through the Lawrence area, said she attended the game to watch her granddaughter perform with the LHS Little Lions cheerleading clinic. She said her father had served in World War II, and she described kneeling protests as a generational difference between older and younger Americans.
“I hate that they don’t stand,” Hart said. “And I don’t know that they should be allowed to play.”
Amy Sanchez disagreed. Like Hart, she also belongs to a military family, but she doesn’t take issue with students kneeling during the national anthem.
“My husband was in the Marine Corps, and he said he fought for freedom of speech for all Americans,” said Sanchez, who said she attended Friday's game to watch her daughter perform in the LHS marching band.
Sanchez said she wasn’t sure if her daughter had participated in the protest, but wouldn’t have been surprised if she had. The Lawrence mother keeps a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution in her car, “so we talk about it a lot,” she said of discussing the First Amendment with her kids.
In the wave of recent NFL protests, several media reports have surfaced of high school athletes facing punishment after taking the knee. While Lawrence school board policy does not specifically mention the national anthem, there are policies in place that “address practice and expectations that staff uphold students’ rights to free speech,” district spokeswoman Julie Boyle told the Journal-World earlier this week, before Friday’s protest.
“The district’s goal is to create a secure learning environment that enables students to fully engage in the educational process free from political or religious partiality,” Boyle said in an email. “Students have the right to express their political/religious views in an open, honest and responsible manner, and in such a manner that reflects an attitude of tolerance and respect for others whose beliefs may differ.”
Love and Nichols, the two band members who spoke to the Journal-World on Friday, said they would continue taking a knee at games throughout football season.
“I know it won’t change the nation, but it might bring awareness to the situation,” Nichols said. “It’s not much, but it’s something.”
Because the LHS football team typically does not enter the field until after the national anthem, players' actions during the song are not visible to the public.