A year ago, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality toward people of color, Harding High football coach Sam Greiner talked to his team about it.
Greiner said the Rams ultimately chose to continue standing during the national anthem.
Now, Greiner said he’s talking to his team again, after President Donald Trump stirred up a firestorm at an Alabama political rally last week, when he told the crowd: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!”
Three days after Trump’s comments went viral, many NFL players used the anthem to send the president a message. Hundreds knealt, stood arm-in-arm and some did not emerge from the locker room.
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High school players, like the kids on Greiner’s team, saw that. The Observer spoke to several public and private school coaches in Mecklenburg County. No coach said he’d spoken with a player who indicated he wanted to protest at games this week, but everyone was talking about the issue.
“I don’t know what the correct answer is,” Greiner said. “If (a player) wanted to explain why (he was planning to protest), he has his own right to do that. I’m not going to punish them for doing what they think is right.
“This is something that’s raised awareness everywhere. One thing I don’t want to do is be a team divided and have this take anything away -- if we stand or if we kneel. We just need to talk about it.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools sent an email to its coaches this week that referenced its code of conduct. CMS says it cannot require students to observe patriotic rituals or discipline students for silent acts of protest, such as kneeling or sitting for the national anthem or refusing to say the Pledge of Allegience, so long as those actions do not interfere with another person’s ability to do so or disrupt school operations.
At Butler High, football coach Brian Hales said he hadn’t heard from his players about planning a protest, but he said he has talked about the issue with his coaches and was planning to speak to his players.
“If kids are going to protest, as long as its peaceful, we’ll let them have at it,” Hales said. “I’ll support them provided they know why they are protesting. I would hate to have a kid protest just because the NFL guys are doing it. If they know the reason behind it, I’d absolutely support them.”
At Mallard Creek, coach Mike Palmieri said his players could protest if they so chose, but that the Mavericks are not often on the field during the national anthem. That’s part of their normal pregame routine, Palmieiri said, even before Kaepernick or Trump’s tweet.
“I haven’t thought about bringing (the NFL protests) up,” Palmieri said. “We are so busy doing what we’re trying to do for the season, but we’ll support anything our players choose to do.”
West Mecklenburg coach Jarvis Davis, like Palmieri, hadn’t discussed the protests with his team. Like Palmieiri, he also doesn’t have his team on the field during the national anthem.
“I don’t want to disrespect anything and I don’t want to have my kids doing it,” he said. “Our kids are easily influenced. ...I try to keep them away from that. Last year, my kids would say, ‘Coach, I’m going to take a knee.’ I didn’t want to even give them a chance to do that.
“I didn’t want anybody to feel disrespected or bring any negative publicity to West Mecklenburg. Kids do it because of what they see and I’m not sure if they believe it, so let’s take that away (by being inside during the anthem) and not make that an issue.”
At Charlotte Country Day, a private school, coach Drew Witman said he planned to speak with his team after practice Wednesday and was planning a more formal open discussion, perhaps bringing someone outside of the school to help with the dialogue next week.
“I want them to know we’re aware of what’s going on, and their voice can be heard,” Witman said. “They’re free to do what they want. They can express their emotions and how they feel. We want to educate them to the best of our abilities to what’s going on. ...
“I’ve not heard from the kids about this. Whether it’s their minds or not, they see it. But we want to talk about it as a team and make sure we protect our team, and whatever stance we take, we want to protect each other.”
Charlotte Latin private school coach Larry McNulty served in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1970-72. He said dealing with the issue of potential anthem protests is tough for him because of his military background.
“With people upset about the president’s tweeting, we may have lost sight of the real issues,” McNulty said. “I worry about how all this stuff will end up landing, especially for the NFL. Everybody has their own options and rights to things, and I will deal with it when I get there.
“But I’m a pretty prideful guy and I’m just not comfortable at this point getting into this heated conversation that has no right or wrong answer. I don’t think there’s anything I can say that wouldn’t be inflammatory towards someone, so I’ll back up what I just said -- if I have to deal with (a player deciding to protest), I will deal with it. But right now, I’m preparing for my team to play football.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr