A youth football team in Illinois took a knee during the national anthem. Now, their coach explains why.
Orlando “Doc” Gooden coaches the Junior Comanches, based out of Cahokia, Illinois. Most of the players are seven and eight years old.
A conversation started during a practice last weekend. Gooden said several of his players asked him about the unrest in St. Louis, following a judge’s decision to find former police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
“The kids, they asked me, have I seen they were rioting and protesting,” Gooden explained by phone Tuesday. “I asked them -- did they know what the protest was and why they were protesting? Some of the kids blurted out answers, and we kind of went from there.”
He said the player’s questions about the unrest led to a conversation about racial equality and the justice system.
“We talked about the different things people go to jail for, and the different reasons why people should go to jail,” Gooden explained. “And I asked them if they believe it was fair that some people don’t go to jail for killing and some do. And they said no, it’s unfair.”
The conversation turned to NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who made headlines for protesting racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem at football games.
“I said, because of the unfair things that happen, that’s the reason Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem now,” Gooden explained. “And one of the kids asked - could we do it? And the other ones, they were kind of excited to do it. And I said, as long as we know why we are doing it -- we can do it.”
Gooden said the players’ parents were present during the discussion at practice. As the national anthem played before their game on Sunday, the team and their coach took a knee, to protest the judge’s decision in the Stockley case.
Gooden considers what happened with his team a teaching moment.
“Somebody was searching for knowledge,” he said. “I absolutely felt that that was a great teaching moment.”
The team faces some criticism for that decision. Gooden said the players are young, but have a good understanding of the issues they discussed. They also meant no disrespect to those who served the country.
“Nothing was to disrespect any past or present military official, anyone who has relatives in the military,” he said. “We are Americans as well. The flag, it represents all of us.”