A team of youth football players from the small town of Cahokia, Ill., took a page from Colin Kaepernick's book and knelt during the national anthem while turning their backs on the American flag prior to a Sept. 17 game.
Members of the Junior Comanches, a team of 8-year-old boys, planned and staged the demonstration to protest racial injustice — mainly the verdict in the nearby St. Louis trial of former police officer Jason Stockley.
People have been demonstrating in St. Louis since Stockley was acquitted last week of first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Smith in 2011. Smith, a black man, was shot during an arrest, accused of being part of a drug deal. Stockley -- who is white and is a graduate of Althoff Catholic High School in nearby Belleville, Ill. -- said he felt threatened.
The team's coach, Orlando Gooden, told the local newspaper, the Belleville News Democrat, that parents approved the protest, and the idea came from a discussion last week about the Stockley verdict and subsequent protests. Critics on social media called for the 8-year-olds to be expelled from their league.
Gooden told the newspaper: “One of the kids brought it up and asked, ‘What’s going on in St. Louis? Why are they demonstrating and rioting?' He’s just an 8-year-old baby, and he’s asking me why they are doing it. I felt it was a teaching opportunity. As a coach and adult, it’s your role to protect those that are weaker and to enlighten them when you can.
“I know some of the people talk and speak as if I told the kids to turn around and do that. I didn’t. They brought up the subject and led the discussion."
Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, hasn’t been signed by a team in 2017 following a season in which he drew national headlines for kneeling during the national anthem as a way to protest racial injustice.
© 2017 USATODAY.COM