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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