Protesting and the Anthem: An educational opportunity for you and your team

By Greg Winkler

High school is a microcosm of society; the actions we see today by professional and college athletes always find a way onto our playing fields and our practices. The current protests by our professional athletes will and may already have found their way to your schools.

At a recent Rotary meeting in the Midwest, a white high school football coach, in all his bravado, stated to a room full of white leaders in that community, that no football player of his would kneel for the anthem. If a player did, he would no longer be part of the team. The brash statement met with resounding applause and cheers.

According to Frank LoMonte, of the Student Press Law Center, “Public schools can’t discipline students for silent acts of political protest that don’t disrupt the operations of a school, like kneeling for the anthem or refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

As soccer coaches, regardless of where you coach in this country, we more than likely will deal with a very diverse population of athletes. Our sport appeals to people of all races and classes providing our players the opportunity to learn about other cultures and create bonds with others that never would have been possible without their connection to this game. The recent comments by our president has, for good or bad, dumped this issue right in our laps.

As people of influence, we can use this opportunity to foster conversations and growth. During these conversations, each and every member of the team has a chance to share their beliefs, making dialog the key to understanding. Discussions about what the “Star Spangled Banner” actually means and what a player may be attempting to protest can be facilitated.

If your program is based on character values, you can refocus the conversation on the values your team has established and lives by. Respect, one of my team’s core values, can be used to examine this issue. How can we respect each other’s opinions and still respect our team?

In a recent Monday Night Football game, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who has been adamant that no player/employee of his will kneel during the anthem led his team to a compromise. The recent events affecting the NFL caused Jones and his team to have a deeper conversation, because Jones’ values and the concerns of his team were about to clash. However, through dialog and understanding, a decision was made to honor both sides of the issue. The players, coaches, and staff, including owner Jerry Jones, took a knee prior to the anthem and then all stood with locked arms in unity for the song.

What does this all mean? As high school coaches we have the opportunity to talk to our players and enhance our relationships with them. While a young man or woman, in a public high school setting has every right to silent protest, it may have a harmful or divisive effect on the team. Discussions about the team’s core values should take place and alternative actions should be explored.

The football coach at the Rotary meeting will find himself in a court battle if a player is kicked off for protesting. It is best to be proactive and have a plan as a team. A team statement regarding the issue can be printed in the game program. A community service project by the team can help bring awareness locally to the issue and bring some positive press along with it.

A key for the team is to find a way to address their concern or the concerns of their teammates without disrupting the game experience or the locker room. The focus should be on the team and the game during the event and then focus on the cause outside of the game. A good leader needs to be proactive, and engage in these tough conversations before the actions -- become a distraction.

(Greg Winkler is the United Soccer Coaches' Boys High School Advocacy Chair. He was 2012 NSCAA National Youth Coach of the Year, 2006 Wisconsin Youth Soccer Coach of the Year and 2005 NFHS Midwest Boys Coach of the Year. Winkler is the author of Coaching a Season of Significance.)

38 comments about "Protesting and the Anthem: An educational opportunity for you and your team".
  1. Ric Fonseca, September 29, 2017 at 2:34 p.m.

    This a nicely written and of course right on the money, one week after the controversy was started. First let me say, as I've done in the past, I am an immigrant, legal resident, did high school ROTC, a one year in the UNaval Air, followed by three in the Army (including one year in Korea) a required six yea-tour of duty with two years in the ready reserve. In fact, during the days in October, I was almost recalled to active duty. Long story short, I've done this and done that - oh and I forgot my stint as a Boy Scout and Explorer Scout. So as you can see I was very, but VERY steep in militarism, the rah-rah rally round the flag. I also saw hundred of friends go to VN but they never came back. In short, I've done this and done that plus more. I am also of Mexican birth and still get goose bumps whenever I hear the Mexican National anthem, as much as when I hear the Star Spangle Banner. So what you say? Big effing deal some might utter, but let me tell you amigo when I teach about the history of our country, I also get goose bumps since the majority of my college students, some not even turned 18 and some in their 50s (from Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America) I tell them that I will protect their right to speak out even if I don't agree, and will protect their right to dissent and protest. And know what amigos, they become more appreciative of what this country stands for and I know for a fact that while I may have a smart alecky kid who really doesn't know what the Articles of Confederation were, or that we have a Constitution that has never been suspended, but amended 27 times, and is still a pretty damned good document, then I know that I've done part of my job correctly and that is to know those students are some of the sharpest tacks in the box, much sharper than some so-called grown adults! I could go on more, but let me just hope that the coach mentioned above learns his lesson and learns it well, or else I can recommend an introductory U.S. History course at his local community college.

  2. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 29, 2017 at 3:33 p.m.

    Good post.

  3. Alfred Randall replied, October 1, 2017 at 6:38 p.m.

    We've followed close paths except I'm the son of an Englishman who Well donecame here after WWII (illegally). Well stated comment my friend!

  4. Alfred Randall replied, October 1, 2017 at 6:40 p.m.

    Sorry for the typing errors.

  5. beautiful game, September 29, 2017 at 2:49 p.m.

    RF, well said...some people see the light, others see what they hear.

  6. frank schoon, September 29, 2017 at 3:43 p.m.

    Ric, it's too bad we don't have more professors like you at the universities.....

  7. Len Pasquini, September 29, 2017 at 3:48 p.m.

    The flag has 3 stripes: Red is for the blood shed to protect our freedoms, Blue is for loyalty to our country (right or wrong, my country), White is for purity of purpose to our nation. What part of this is not understood by those disrespecting our flag and our nation (right or wrong, my country).

    I'm a 23 year Navy veteran, retired and a college professor, I fought for you and I despise any disrespect to our national anthem or flag.

    Take your grievances to the public square without the flag present and express verbally what you're complaints are.

    Yes, this is a teachable lesson, but teach it properly.

  8. Joe Wilson replied, September 29, 2017 at 4:22 p.m.

    Re-read the constitution Lenny. And your service doesn't make your opinion more valid or important, so no need to list your resume. Your argument should be able to stand on it's own 2 feet. "White is for the purity of the purpose to our nation"...haha...except when we were murdering 90% of the native american population in the 1800s, or enslaving african-americans. Read a book. "Blue is for the loyalty to our country"...umm what?

  9. R2 Dad, September 29, 2017 at 4:26 p.m.

    The problem as I see it: "A good leader needs to be proactive, and engage in these tough conversations before the actions -- become a distraction." Many/most coaches are not qualified to have this Tough Conversation. There are too many pitfalls, the conversation cannot stay focused, to get to the debate part of the discussion that would have value. People can't even agree on what they're arguing about. In this day and age, there are no binding commonalities like God, Corp and Country, that would make this an easier task.

  10. Nick Daverese, September 29, 2017 at 5 p.m.

    Sure it will leak down to HS football teams it is true. Ever been to a HS game. Now they don't let the quaertback call his own plays. The quarterback can't even audible from what he saw at the line of scrimmage. That is dumb do they actually think the coach is that smart? Sure they will do that. I can see little kids in pop warner doing the same thing.

    I saw my first roller hockey game about ten years ago. I could not believe they actually let those little kids fight. I could not believe that either.

  11. Len Pasquini, September 29, 2017 at 5:14 p.m.

    obviously R2 Dad is not a vet. More than likely a millennial. I've been coaching youth soccer for 38 years and have a pretty good ability to communicate with my players and parents on and off the field.

  12. R2 Dad replied, October 1, 2017 at 12:36 p.m.

    Yes, Len, we're all excellent coaches, but 99.8% of all soccer matches in this country do not play the national anthem so we'll never know how excellent your communication skills really are, 38 years notwithstanding.

  13. Mike Calcaterra, September 29, 2017 at 5:28 p.m.

    I have coached almost every kind of human on a soccer field. Normal, gifted and challenged mentally. White, black, Hispanic, Arabic, Asian, Indian (both kinds) and I don't know what else. (I am physically color blind.) I did this over a 12 year period and never once had an issue of color or politics. I resent Mr. Kapernick and rest for injecting division into sport. Your statement that, "The recent comments by our president has, for good or bad, dumped this issue right in our laps". He was not even a candidate when Kapernick, not Trump, put it in our laps. I never coached at the High School level (I had "my kids" on almost every team in the county. I did officiate hundreds of high school games and my favorite part was the playing of the anthem. You speak of respect as an abstraction, but we see far too much disrespect on the field of play, often from the coaches and the parents. The players were far less trouble than the "grown ups".

    How can we reasonably expect respect in a game which begins as an exercise of disrespect. "My kids" were from Jamaica, Mexico, Columbia, Iraq but we all played one game. My job as a coach was to teach them to play to the best of my and their ability. I expected respectful behavior from my players and the would quickly find the bench if they disrespected anyone at a game. That was the job. Player disrespect of other players is usually cautionable. That was the referees job.

    I never cared whether players raised their hands to their heart or sang along during the anthem. That was their choice. The absence of respect is not disrespect. The athletes in this debate are not failing to respect the nation which has enabled them to live extraordinary lives, they are disrespecting it. The Rotary Coach was wrong. IF it were me, the disdainful player would sit on the bench for the anthem and then would have played. If he chose to express his disrespect, he would be off the team.

  14. Mark Konty replied, September 30, 2017 at 2:14 p.m.

    The absence of respect is not disrespect.  

    Very well said.  

    I gave my high school players, from 12 different countries, several options but told them they would all line up with their teammates and the opposing team and referees for the national anthem.  The can stand with their hands on their hearts and sing, or not sing, or not put their hands on their hearts, or kneel, but they would all line up.  I also told them that if I were visiting in their countries and their national anthem was played at an event I would stand along with everyone else out of respect, so I encouraged them to practice this policy wherever they go.  

  15. Nick Daverese replied, October 1, 2017 at 11 a.m.

    I had trouble once with an Israeli player I had and a couple of muslem players. I knew the Israeli kid and his father four about 7 years. The two Muslims kids I found them at a park. One was from Afghanistan the other from Kuwait. The Israeli kid Allen really learned to hate from his Daddio. Finally I had to warn the father and son stop doing it or your gone. I never worried about being sued in this time of lawyers. Four months later everything was fine with them and the team. Incidently, the only kids that always helped me to prepaid the field for practice was the two muslem kids. My oldest grand daughter is a muslem who happens to love Christmas and the old man in the Santa outfit.

  16. Ric Fonseca replied, October 3, 2017 at 3:27 p.m.

    Sir, pray tell us, just how many "kinds of human beings are there???"  

  17. Dan Woog, September 29, 2017 at 6:06 p.m.

    Greg, this is a great, fair and insightful piece of writing. Any coach who is not an educator is not doing his job. Any coach who does not care about team unity is not doing his job. And any coach who does not want every player to feel safe and comfortable with his teammates and coaches is not doing his job. Having said all that, sometimes those goals don't neatly align -- they may even contradict. Contrary to some previous posts, Greg is not advocating one side or the othr -- nor should any coach. Our job as coaches is to allow enough dialogue so that every player sees where the others are coming from; to model respect for all (players and those with no connection to the team), and to be able to find -- as Jerry Jones did -- common ground. It's not Xs and Os -- but it could be the most important thing some coaches do all year. -- Dan Woog, boys head coach, Staples High School, Westport, CT

  18. Michael Canny replied, October 2, 2017 at 9:07 a.m.

    Thank You, Mr. Woog.

  19. Nick Daverese replied, October 3, 2017 at 8:55 p.m.

    Ric two kinds of human beings good and evil. On Mexico do you think I have never been to Mexico? My son just got back he went there with nyc union iron and steal workers to help with the clean up and he gave blood. He is working on the 4th largest building in nyc 1 the 4 Th largest building in nyc. Heights never bothered him. You ever been to Uzbekistan?

  20. Alvaro Bettucchi, September 29, 2017 at 7:01 p.m.

    As a person who has traveled through many countries, what we have been doing could very easily be corrected, and nationalism can be replaced by patriotism. This week sports paper, a comment by an NFL player, "We are the greatest country in the world and every one must stand...etc". This shows the brain washing and ignorance of said player. We are not the greatest country in the world. We have had our flaws, the same as every country, and will continue to have them. People came here, because it was a growing country and jobs were available. Freedom exists in all the countries of Europe, and in many other countries of the world. Let's do as every soccer and sports nation in the world does! Play and sing your team songs before a game and the anthem only when other countries are involved. Have the Arm Services recognized with their special holiday day. When I'm in another country and see the stars & stripes, I know what it means to me and I am grateful. I do not need a constant reminder about sacrifices, freedom and the anthem, because I realize there are countries that have suffered so much more than us. Let's fix what needs to be fixed here. Play the anthem when it's proper to do so! Not at every game! If you are representing your country, you stand. If not, do not put anyone to be FORCED to stand because of public opinion!

  21. Mark Konty replied, September 30, 2017 at 2:19 p.m.

    Sorry Mark, but you are wearing the exact blinders to which Alvaro is referring.  The US is way down on all kinds of important quality of life rankings: health, social mobility, education, incarceration, violence (homicide and suicide), and all of the dozens of subcategories within.  You need to get your facts straight before doing a personal chest bump.

  22. K Michael, September 29, 2017 at 10:30 p.m.

    What a juvenile mind you have; you sound like a petulant teenager. "What's the big deal, Dad, you smoked cigarettes when you were younger!!...blah, blah, blah," The sound and the fury, signifying nothing. Please engage me, I am begging you, child.

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, September 30, 2017 at 12:12 p.m.

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." A peaceable political protest is protected speech. The US Supreme Court has protected protests even in the form of buring the US Flag. As the article indicates high school coaches need to be mindful of the students' constitutional right to protest. Surpression of unpopular free speech is not the demonstration I want from college professors or high school coaches. The article is encouraging coaches to use the opportunity in a planned positive manner, not a negative reaction.

  24. Nick Daverese replied, October 3, 2017 at 8:48 p.m.

    Ric you think I never been to Mexico. Have you ever been to Uzbekistan. My son just came back from Mexico with his union from nyc. He gave blood and is a welder iron and steel and can put together cranes. Right now he is working on the fourth largest building in NYC. 4 year job they do a floor every two weeks. Have you helped in Mexico?

  25. Nick Daverese, September 30, 2017 at 7:12 a.m.

    If a game was played in Mexico and Mexican players did that protesting about Mexico you would not see those players play for Mexico again.

  26. Michael Canny replied, October 2, 2017 at 9:02 a.m.

    Nick, that is totally irrelevant. We are not in Mexico.

  27. Ric Fonseca replied, October 3, 2017 at 3:25 p.m.


  28. Nick Daverese, September 30, 2017 at 9:54 a.m.

    I have said these many times on this and other soccer sites. Politics don't mix well with sports any sport. When you think it is ok to do that your one of two things. Your an anarchist or your an idiot. Telling kids to do it you might be both.

  29. stewart hayes, September 30, 2017 at 2:07 p.m.

    Mr. Winkler's begins with the premise that it is somehow wrong for a 'white' person in front of other 'white' people to express a desire to respect the flag.  The color of ones skin has nothing to do with this.  This is part of the problem with flag postests and those defending the actions of a few.  Some want to make it a racial issue as a way to score political points or to placate community members who support such protests.  Respect for the flag is not an opportunity to 'discuss our cultura differences' it is an opportunity to celebrate what we have in common.  Some people want identity politics in high school classrooms and playing fields.  I don't.    

  30. Bob Ashpole replied, September 30, 2017 at 5:18 p.m.

    You are being unfair to Mr. Winkler. He said no such thing. He implied no such thing. In fact his article was as politically nuetral as possible given the topic. One of the primary purposes of scholastic sports is to teach citizenship, i.e., how to compete within rules, respect for others and team work. His suggestions are entirely appropriate.

  31. stewart hayes, September 30, 2017 at 6:09 p.m.

    Winkler says ... 'a white high school football coach, in all his bravado, stated to a room full of white leaders in that community, that no football player of his would kneel for the anthem.', I say again, what does skin color have to do with honoring the flag?

  32. Nick Daverese, October 1, 2017 at 10:48 a.m.

    Will they let you do that in Germany to protest police or the German government politics I doubt it? My Grandson is 7 yrs old just joined a club in Germany. They practice twice a week for 1 and half hours a practice. They allow heading incidently. But we in the US know everything about soccer, and Germany doesn’t. No one is taking an knees over there.but they might let them take diving headers which they don’t allow here now. Sports has nothing to do with what color you are, what religion you are or sexual orientation you are. Not if you want to do well as a team. He also showed me his scrapbook he made of football cards. I did that as a kid with American football pictures I took them from newspapers or any place else I could find them. I wished I kept them so I could show him mine.

  33. Michael Canny, October 2, 2017 at 9:05 a.m.

    It appears to me that this coach is either playing to his audience, or does not want to confront the problem. (or both) If he actually does this--throws a player off the team--he is openning up himself and his employer to a major lawsuit.

  34. Nick Daverese replied, October 2, 2017 at 9:29 a.m.

    Mr Canny does the coach have to play that player? He can keep him on the team but he does not have to play him. He can tell him you don’t have to come to practice if he does not want to. In other words he can show that player he does not care about him one way or another. Can he sue him for not caring about him. Then if he want to quit the team the coach can let him quit.

  35. Thom Meredith, October 2, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.


    Thank you my friend. Very well said and obviously from the heart.

    Most sincerely,


  36. ROBERT BOND, October 2, 2017 at 2:02 p.m.

    simple. no need to play it except at international events.then folks who like to kneel can kneel at the bench the whole game. annoying enough the Turks won't sing Die Deutschland Lied. too funny the no fans left bunch then stood for God save the queen.politeness prevailed protest-have not watched them all year, but too violent too many punks and takes too long with all the commercials-needs a red card rule......easy in World football, if the refs said stand you'd get a yellow for not doing it.....

  37. ROBERT BOND, October 3, 2017 at 8:58 a.m.

    they should all watch "Glory"

  38. Ray Lindenberg , October 12, 2017 at 7:12 p.m.

    Superb article and take. As important as the policy to adopt regarding the issue of kneeling, is the need to anticipate and be prepared for it. If it doesn't come up, no need to do anything and stir up a hornet's nest. But if it does, then it's wise to be ready with a well thought-out plan.

    In many parts (dare I say most) many of the soccer teammates may be either proud immigrants, or the chldren of proud immigrants, so this is a particlarly dicey issue to thread the needle on, so as not to kickstart what could be a series of uncomfortable consequences that could lead to being offensive to either those that kneel, those that eschew kneeling, or both groups.

    The issue, without getting too politcal (if that's possible) is that some people (players amd/or their parents, plus spectators) may come prepackaged with a deeply ingrained opinion or belief on the subject -- but more importantly the belief that only their personal belief is the sole way of interpreting the action of kneeling during an anthem ... and that's at he crux of the problem. People don't leave room for interpretations that oppose their own take.

    Some will insist that kneeling is automatically a symbol of a lack of respect of the flag, our nation, and its military that sacrificed for the nation. That's absolutely being disrespected, in their minds.

    Others will insist that kneeling is an appropriate gesture to signal a rejection of a core issue (in the Kaepernick case, an opinion of a severe epidemic of police mistreatment of blacks) that should be highlighted and not swept under the rug during the symbolic 'my country right or wrong' salute to the flag tradition before many sporting events. Exercizing that right to show dissent, to them, is in itself a worthy act of true patriotism. There are many other takes, for sure, of this ultra-sensitive issue.

    The best solution that I could come up with and am ready to tell my players, should this come up, is that we are a team that respects all opinions, just like we respect the race, religion and ethnicity of all players -- and that as long as they line up as a unified team diuring an anthem, I will support and respect the individual action of all the players, and hope and encourage them to do the same -- so I would allow them to stand or kneel on one or both knees...or sing or not sing ... or wear their religious head-dress or not, if applicable.

    But I also daw the line and have my wn standards. What I would not let them do is burn a flag, display a political sign, horse around, warm-up and possibly turning their backs to the flag during an anthem. To me, kneeling is a silent act of respect and therefore acceptable, and hopefully, somedays, it will not be needed to be practiced during a game due to no critical issues worthy of such public displays of dissent, or made a big deal of, if it is practiced.

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