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Star Spangled Banter

Joey O'Kelly

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   To kneel or not to kneel – a question that has taken the nation by storm since the night of August 26, 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem caught the eye of the media and sparked a firestorm. Over a year later the issue is relevant again after president Donald Trump stated that athletes who kneel are being disrespectful to the American flag and should be fired. Responses poured in from athletes and Twitter users across the nation, igniting tension and putting a spotlight on the issue.

   There are many perspectives on what people are protesting. While not everyone is protesting the exact same thing, there is a general trend. Senior Jordan Johnson, a player on the LHS volleyball team, has been taking a knee during the anthem for the reasons that matter most to her.

   “It has nothing to do with Trump,” Johnson said. “It has nothing to do with disrespect towards the flag. For me, it has to do with the fact that we’re making a statement about racism and that there is a problem in this country that needs to be addressed. Until it’s addressed, we’re going to make a statement. The statement that we chose to make is to kneel.”

   There are many who agree with Johnson. Of the 221 students who responded to the newspaper’s poll, 187 said American citizens should have the right to peacefully protest in a public setting.

   Johnson is not the first in her family to stand up for what she believes in.

   “Both of my grandpas marched with Martin Luther King Jr,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of history and background. I’ve gone through a lot of racial issues no matter where I’ve been.”

   While Johnson may have been the only one on the girls’ volleyball team to kneel, she was not the only one at the game to do it. She found support where she least expected it at one game in particular.

   “We had a game at Park Hill South and there were a few black students in their student section,” Johnson said. “When they saw I was kneeling they took a knee, which was really weird because I didn’t know any of them. I don’t know if it was because they saw me doing it or because they really understood why I was doing it but either way it meant a lot to me.”

   As Johnson said, people are noticing. The current juniors and seniors are the next age group to be able to vote for president. Students are paying attention to the world around them and learning. Teachers are facilitating this learning and have a big influence on the opinions of students.

   “I think teachers should let it be because, right now, we’re practicing to be adults,” a student said. “When we’re practicing to be adults, teachers need to let kids have that freedom of speech.”

  However, this is not the only side. At LHS, there are students who represent every side of the debate.

   “I think that no matter who you are, if you’re living in the United States, then you’re a free person because of those who have fought for you,” a student said. “I think that no matter who you are, you should stand.”

   This student is not alone on their perspective. Out of 221 students who responded to the newspaper’s poll, 19 said American citizens should not have the right to peacefully protest in a public setting.

   “I think everyone should stand during the national anthem because not only are you doing it for your flag and your country but you’re also doing it for your military and to honor those guys who fought for us, even though they fought for our right to kneel,” another student said. “Even though they fought for that right, I still have respect for them and everyone should stand. If we’re talking about the whole kneeling situation, I understand it, I respect it, I’m all for it 110% but I’m personally going to stand for the national anthem.”

  With so many strong opinions being thrown around in a high school setting, things can get a little bit tense.

  “I want other students to know that I respect everybody’s opinions, but I just personally think it’s respectful to stand for the national anthem,” a student said. “I completely agree that you can protest for whatever you want to protest for, that’s great. No matter what it is, you have the right to do so. I just think that there are better times that it could be done.”

   Though students may have differing opinions, they all have the same rights within the school. The First Amendment right to free speech is applicable to students in this situation. Students have the right to whatever opinion they please and the ability to express that opinion, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the educational process.

   “As far as actions taken if a student kneels, there are no actions that need to be taken; it’s freedom of speech,” principal Dr. April Adams said. “It really starts with having those conversations prior to the action of ‘what is the message you are sending?’ ‘Is this the right platform?’ ‘Is the action step you’re taking going to make a change?’ That’s what protesting is about.”

    While free speech is protected in the constitution, there is always a struggle to find the line between free speech and responsibility. While students do have the right to kneel during the anthem, some feel that it isn’t morally correct.

   Not everyone can be on the field for the anthem, so sometimes adjustments have to be made. There’s a spotlight shining on the athletes but there are also bleachers full of people with their own opinions on the topic.

   “I know some parents have raised their arm,” a student who preferred to stay anonymous said. “It’s better than kneeling.”

   In the bleachers, there are little to no signs of people kneeling. The football team has not even had the opportunity to make a stance, due to the fact that they are still in the locker room while the national anthem is playing. On the field or off the field, this topic is everywhere. With so many strong opinions, it’s easy to get lost.

   “I believe the student body has a responsibility to have a voice in creating a sustainable plan to make sure we are having these conversations,” Adams said. “We have platforms in place so young people feel heard and listened to, and they also feel like they are part of positive action.”

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Star Spangled Banter