HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Hard hits and hard lessons are part of high school football. Explaining to young men why a professional athlete is using the field to launch a political protest is just hard.
“I respect and admire what he’s trying to say, I just don’t agree with the way he’s doing it,” says Aaron Blanding, head football coach for Central Dauphin East.
Blanding is referring to recent actions by San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem prior to his team’s NFL preseason games. According to Kaepernick, his intention is to shed light on alleged police brutality aimed at African-Americans.
“I’ll continue to sit,” Kaepernick told reporters this week. “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, I’ll stand.”
Blanding, who says he doesn’t expect to address the protest with his players, says while he supports every Americans’ right to protest, he thinks Kaepernick has made a mistake in his symbolism.
“I think if you’re going about it a different way, you might have more support,” he adds. “People have fought and died (for the flag). If you want to speak out on some things, that’s fine, but now you’re protesting the flag that gives all of us freedom to do the things that we’re doing right now.”
CD East players say they’ve heard about Kaepernick’s protest, but don’t see any reason to imitate it. The players, who also wear American flag decals on their helmets, say they plan to stand as normal during the playing of the National Anthem this season.
“We’re always going to do it,” says Brandon Hickerson-Rooks, a senior defensive player. “I kind of feel the same way (about the police brutality issue), but then again, it’s like at the end of the day, we’re America, and we have to stand together. Like a football team, America is a team, too.”
Other players say they worried that young athletes might imitate Kaeperinck, while not fully understanding the issue, or thinking about the consequences of their actions. Concerns included offending police and military who serve and protect their communities.
“I find it disrespectful for an NFL player, because so many people look up to them as role models” said Tyler Boger, a CD East senior linebacker. “If you have someone sitting there during the National Anthem, a younger guy that looks up to someone who is doing it is most likely going to follow in their footsteps, and that’s not what we want to happen.”