By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the singing of the national anthem in response to police brutality has sparked a national conversation, controversy and trend among other players. While conservatives feel kneeling is disrespectful, others argue it is a strong, respectful protest against an important issue that disproportionately affects Black bodies.
Now at Capital Christian Academy in Prince George’s County, football players are joining the movement.
Josiah Gil, 17, one of the members of the Red Storm Capital Christian football team, and a former fellow teammate were pulled over in summer 2017 and asked to get out of the car. When he asked the officer the reason for the stop, Gil said he was told his music was too loud. Appalled by the response and anxious about the realities of police brutality, Gil said his experience with the officer last summer stuck with him.
“We ask God to keep everybody safe out here because you never know what could happen,” he told NBC News, adding that he prays when he gets anxious. “You could go out and just have fun and end up in a different place. You could end up in jail, you could end up dead,” he said.
From Gil’s own encounter with the police and the negative stories throughout the news and social media, he and his teammates decided it was time to join the national debate and kneel.
Their coach, Cornell Wade, approved the Red Storms’ decision to kneel, yet told them if they were going to protest they had to go in full throttle understanding that they might upset some people.
“If you take a knee, it’s fine,” Wade said according to NBC News. “But do you understand the real ramifications? You might not just be offending the players on the other team. You might be offending the ref.”
The students said they understood, yet at their first game they chose not to kneel because they were afraid they might offend one of the volunteer coaches, Addison Fair Jr., who was in the Marines. Fair’s son, Aydon and had heard that the students chose not to join the protest because of him, unaware that he championed their kneeling. Fair had his own poor experience with police in the past.
“I was in the Marine Corps, pulled over, stopped, was never told what I was stopped for, put on the ground on my face with my Marine Corps ID beside my head,” Fair told NBC News. “And the charge, the reason they stopped me: suspicion, because I was a young Black male with a nice car in Palmer Park, Md.”
With Fair’s support and the success of and buzz surrounding Kaepernick’s recent Nike commercial, the students decided to kneel at their second game the following week. That game was in Washington County, a predominantly White county in Maryland between the borders of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. When the national anthem began, each member of the team bent down on one knee.
“Nobody was nervous,” Aydon Fair told NBC. The crowd “knew exactly what was going on. They knew exactly what we were doing,” he said.
The crowd didn’t stir much when the Red Storm decided to kneel and the team won 48-8. However, Capital Christian received messages in the following days saying members of the community felt the students’ actions were disrespectful at the game.
The team knelt again at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. While they lost, they felt their actions were important.
“I feel like I’m a part of something bigger than me for once in my life,” Fair told NBC. “Makes me feel important.”