Catholic high schools respond to national anthem protests

| September 29, 2017 | 5 Comments
Prayer before football game

Players from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul and Totino-Grace High School in Fridley stand at midfield for the national anthem before their game Aug. 30 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

What Colin Kaepernick started, President Donald Trump reignited.

National anthem protests returned to the forefront in the past week following the president’s comments about NFL players taking a knee for the anthem. NFL teams responded vociferously Sept. 24-25 during the anthem as players took a knee, locked arms or skipped the anthem altogether.

It sounded an alarm for Catholic and public high schools alike around nation, including in Minnesota. Student atheltes taking a knee could show up at high school sporting events again as it did a year ago.

“What can happen at the high school level is they can see something happen in the news or professional athletes do something, and they just kind of mimic it,” said Adam Pribyl, the athletic director of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. “Then it loses the intent of what some of those protests are.”

Protests at high school games occurred around the country in 2016 during the weeks following Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, taking a knee during the anthem  before games as a way to protest racism in the United States.

“We actually talked about this last year before it blew up because we wanted to be on top of it, in case it happened,” said Pribyl, whose school has 45 percent non-Caucasian student athletes.

High school squads to take a knee in Minnesota in 2016 included Robbinsdale Cooper and Minneapolis North football, which DeLaSalle and St. Agnes School in St. Paul faced respectively. For both DeLaSalle and St. Agnes, which has 25 percent non-Caucasian students in athletics, the expectation to stand for anthem remains clear both this year and last.

“We have not needed a written policy, but our approach is that all our students and coaches will come out and stand for the national anthem,” said Mike Streitz, the St. Agnes athletic director.

Last year, Pribyl and the DeLaSalle administration requested that Islanders coaches speak with their student athletes about the issue. Pribyl said athletes have stood during anthem at DeLaSalle sporting events.

“That’s part of being a part of our community,” Prybil said.

Totino-Grace High School athletic director Mike Smith said he thought the issue would be a one-year thing, but he would want his coaches to address it again.

“Last year, our teams had several good discussions about it with their athletes, but this year we have not done too much,” Smith said. “We may have to encourage our coaches to have some good, open conversations with their athletes again regarding this.”

Totino-Grace, a school in Fridley, has between 15-20 percent non-Caucasian students in its community. Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, which has 84 percent Latino and 11 percent African-American, has a different take on the issue.

“If a student feels compelled to participate in honoring the national anthem or if that student chooses to address the anthem in a different, but respectful, manner by not participating in standing for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ we support that student,” said Robert Carpentier, Cristo Rey’s athletic director.

The Minnesota State High School League, which oversees high school activities in the state, sent a letter to coaches and athletic directors in August about the issue. The MSHSL stated that “sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is a protected First Amendment right, and we cannot disallow an athlete of sitting or kneeling during the anthem.” The league asked that it be respectful and that coaches talk with their student athletes about it.

However, Chuck Briscoe, principal and president of Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, expects Cardinals student athletes to stand. He said it hasn’t been an issue at their school.

Briscoe said standing for the anthem is important “because a lot of people have given their community the ultimate price to keep that flag flying so that we’ve got all the freedom and rights that we have in this country.”

Providence Academy Headmaster Todd Flanders emphasized those freedoms and rights in the school athletic director Rick Johns’ letter to coaches and about the issue. Standing for the anthem is the expectation at the Plymouth school.

“These liberties make an institution like ours possible,” Flanders said. “We honor this heritage as an institution and a community, regardless of the reservations each of us as individuals may have about governmental overreach, drift from our founding principles, or perceived current injustices.”

Johns also referenced the United States Flag Code, which became federal law in 1942. For the national anthem, the code states “all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.”

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  • Charles C.

    From the Minnesota State High School League Athletic Rules and Policies Manual , the title and very first entry is as follows:

    Respect the American flag and the National Anthem.”


    There is no excuse for kneeling, none.

    “But, the students have First Amendment rights.” Really?

    From the same section:

    “Hand held signs, which do not obstruct the view of others, will be permitted
    provided they are in good taste. Signs, message boards, “white” boards or other similar items contest/tournament officials deem to be in poor taste will be removed.”

    Either the athletic officials support the protests, in which case they violate their own policies (not to mention their ingratitude and lack of patriotism), or they are afraid to enforce or change the policy, in which case they are sniveling poltroons.

  • Hallie

    It’s too bad that Cristo Rey is the only Catholic school explicitly defending students’ rights for free speech in their free choice to stand or kneel. I would have thought more Catholic schools would respect their students’ choice in this manner, as solidarity and anti-racism are among the values taught by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and those principles surrounding the dignity of the human person and brotherhood and sisterhood in God’s family should supersede a nation’s rules about whether or not one should stand before a flag. Besides, kneeling is not disrespectful by any means. To me, this is a fantastic example of a respectful and peaceful way to protest. I can’t believe the gentleman from Providence actually used the words “perceived injustices.” Incredible. Let’s pay attention, Minnesota Catholics. Let’s work on this issue of racism together, and we can start by supporting our youth in sports to choose how to respect both their country and their concerns.

    • Charles C.

      Forgive me for repeating myself, but there are no free speech rights for students (or adult spectators) at high school football games. The state high school athletic manual makes that clear.

      Solidarity is a good thing, but only sometimes. It is false to claim that because a group of people are united in a movement, that is a good thing. Witness any communist state or the Nazis. They had solidarity.

      Do you think this is about anti-racism? How can you tell? Many, if not most, of the pro players (and I assume that has trickled down to the high schools) are doing this as a reaction to Trump’s remarks. Some are doing it because of team pressure, the drive for “solidarity” or unity is forcing some to protest when they would rather not. See Alejandro Villanueva of the Steelers as a player who bucked the protest and was forced to apologize for his “free speech” by his coach in the name of “solidarity.”

      Federal guidelines (not laws) tell us what respect for the flag and the anthem consists of. If someone does something else intentionally, they are showing disrespect. It is considered proper (if you’re Catholic) to genuflect and kiss the Pope’s ring if he offers it when you are introduced. Going to an audience with him when you’re dressed in a “Viva Pope” T-shirt, Vatican coat of arms baseball cap, and giving him a “high five,” might be the height of respect to some, but it’s just not done. Neither is kneeling, linking arms, or sitting down.

      If players thought they were being respectful, it wouldn’t be a protest. But they know they are breaking the rules, being disrespectful, and they’re doing it for some vague reason which varies among the players.

      Our high school kids are learning little enough as it is, at least we could try to teach about the “solidarity” that all Americans should have as their base. The civic virtue which all citizens in any society must have for a healthy society is

      • Solid Veteran

        How is it your business if someone kneels or not? They don’t answer to you. If you don’t like it, tough I guess. There is rascim in the US, so what?

        • Charles C.

          Dear Solid Veteran,

          What an interesting argument. I’m retired, nobody “answers” to me. According to you, I can’t express an opinion on what anyone in the world does.

          You might argue that politicians answer to Americans because we vote for them, but in that case, the football players answer to us because we buy the tickets to the games, purchase fan material, patronize sponsors, and give them massive tax breaks to build their stadiums.

          And you’re right, so what about racism in the US? It’s a terrible thing, but in a country of over 310 million, you can find that and a lot worse. In fact, you can find just about anything you can imagine.