[This article first appeared in The Progressive in October 2016. We’re republishing it following Sunday’s unprecedented protests in the National Football League to highlight the role that students and educators played leading up to this moment. We also want to highlight the newest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine, which has five cover stories and and an editorial focusing on Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools. As educators returning to our schools this year, we must rededicate ourselves to building an education system and a society that values Black lives.]
By Jesse Hagopian
The jocks. The marching band. The cheerleaders. The Black Student Union. The teachers. And the administration. These disparate high school groups rarely come together.
But at times of great peril and of great hope, barriers that once may have seemed permanent can collapse under a mighty solidarity. The crisis of police terror in Black communities across the country is just such a peril — and the resistance to that terror, symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem — is just such a hope.
On September 16th, the entire football team of Garfield High School, the school I teach at in Seattle, joined the protest that Kaepernick set in motion by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. While the Garfield Bulldogs were among the first high schools to have an entire team protest the anthem, it has since spread to schools around the nation. Their bold action for justice made headlines. Their photo appeared in the issue of Time that featured Kaepernick on the cover and CBS News came to Garfield to do a special on the protest. And in the New York Times, Kaepernick himself commented on the Garfield football team saying, “I think it’s amazing.”
It was a rejection of the rarely recited third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which celebrates the killing of Black people, the ongoing crisis of state violence against Black people, and an affirmation that Black lives matter. As the Garfield football team said in a statement they later released:
We are asking for the community and our leaders to step forward to meet with us and engage in honest dialogue. It is our hope that out of these potentially uncomfortable conversations positive, impactful change will be created.
And those conversations led them to analyze the way racism is connected to other forms of oppression and the way those forms of oppression disfigure many aspects of their lives, including the media and the school system. Yes, football players publicly challenging homophobia may be rare, but the Bulldog scholar-athletes aren’t having it.