How Kneeling Twice During the Anthem Ended Football Season Early for These Young Players

The Beaumont Bulls youth football team kneeling in protest.

The Beaumont Bulls youth football team kneeling in protest.

The Beaumont Bulls senior youth football team is one of the most talked about football teams in the country right now, but not for the reasons you think. What started as a protest against racial injustice in America resulted in a downward spiral that ultimately led to the suspension of the remainder of the team’s season.

On Sept. 10, the team of 11- and 12-year-old Black youths from Southeast Texas took a page from Colin Kaepernick’s book and knelt during the national anthem at one of their football games. Kaepernick, who received swift backlash for his actions, began taking a knee during the anthem as a symbol of protest over racial injustice and police brutality.

The youths felt it was important to stand up (or kneel, rather) for what was right, so they followed the football star’s lead. Photos of their protest went viral, getting coverage from national media even recognition from Kaepernick himself. However, not everyone liked the message the young boys were sending.

As with Kaepernick, many people were outraged at the young athletes’ “disrespect” of the American flag, national anthem, and all the values America supposedly stands for. According to The Undefeated, the backlash prompted sharp disagreements among some of the coaches and between many of the families. There was also tension among the executive board of the Bulls organization, which sponsors the team.

It was after the team took a knee for the second time on Sept. 17 that outrage really hit an all-time high. “Rah-Rah” Barber, the football team’s head coach, was terminated by the Bulls’ leadership soon after, causing 14 of the team’s 19 young players to refuse play unless their coach was reinstated, the Undefeated reports. The executive board then moved to forfeit the three remaining games on the team’s schedule, cutting the boys’ season short.

“We took a stand when other people wouldn’t,” said 11-year-old cornerback Jaelun Parkerson, expressing confusion at what he and his teammates had done wrong to be punished so harshly. “We’re trying to put a change in the world, but other people are scared to put that change in the world.”

The Beaumont Bulls initially received an outpouring of love and support from the community, which drowned out the hate and outrage from their critics. But then the young athletes began receiving death and lynching threats after they were advised not to kneel, but decided to do so anyway.

The history of racism and lynchings of African-Americans in the South made the threats all too real — especially since they were directed toward a group of young Black boys. Just 70 miles north of Beaumont is the city of Jasper, where 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. was murdered by three white supremacists in 1998. The Undefeated also reports that rape allegations from a white woman who claimed a Black man raped her in 1943 sparked a three day riot in which an angry white mob destroyed Black neighbors in Beaumont.

“This is the South. Us having our black children take a knee basically against white America has made that ugliness come out, that hate come out,” parent April Parkerson of the backlash. “But the love and support and kindness has also come from all over.”

As if the cowardly threats of violence weren’t enough, the widening rift between the team’s coaches were also tearing the boys apart. An assistant coach only identified as “Joseph” accused Coach Anderson of pushing his beliefs onto the young boys without explaining the meaning behind what they were doing. Anderson denied this.

Seterria Anderson, the team’s president, expressed similar sentiments, calling the protest a”publicity stunt,” the Undefeated reports.

“If kids are being coerced to [kneel], I can’t roll with that,” Anderson said. “If they understand what they’re doing, I have no problem with that. But once I realized it was the adults’ idea and not the kids’, I stopped supporting Coach Barber and the team.”

The constant back-and-forth between coaches, parents and team leadership has tarnished the reputation of the team and league as a whole, according to the Beaumont Enterprise. But all hope hasn’t been lost. The boys are expected to begin playing again next fall for a new team and a new league.

“If they can get back on the field after all this commotion, it’ll all be worth it,” Barber said. “It’ll be the icing on the cake.”

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