San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest against racial injustice and police brutality has been the biggest and most controversial storyline to emerge from this young NFL season. Like it or not, Kaepernick’s silent dissent is genius in its simplicity—not every athlete can or will take to the streets to protest, but just about all of them are able to take a knee during the ubiquitous pre-game national anthem. That’s made it easy for the movement to spread throughout the sports world, where it has been duplicated at nearly every level of competition.
This has also prompted vehement pushback from critics. In Texas, Senator Ted Cruz, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and Ag Commissioner Sid Miller have each publicly expressed their opposition to Kaepernick’s protest. Cruz called Kaepernick a “spoiled” athlete, Jones said the activism is “disappointing,” and Miller said he plans to boycott the NFL unless the league decides to “reign [sic] in” its players.
Kaepernick appears unfazed by such criticism, and continues to kneel. So, too, do the Beaumont Bulls, a youth football team of eleven and twelve-year-olds who have become an Internet sensation. The team and its coaches began emulating Kaepernick’s protest before each game, and video of the team’s first protest two weeks ago went viral, capturing the attention of New York Daily News columnist Shaun King and even Kaepernick himself, who has retweeted two photos of the Bulls.
— Urban Youth Justice (@Youth_Justice) September 16, 2016
11 & 12 y/o Beaumont Bulls football team in TX asked their coaches if they could kneel. All 22 players joined in. pic.twitter.com/PoBiCvPnRE
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 10, 2016
The Beaumont Enterprise has the story about how the Bulls and head coach Rah Rah Barber decided to kneel:
Earlier in the week, he and the other coaches had discussed taking a knee while the players stood, but decided not to, he said. He changed his mind when several players approached him and asked if they could.
“I asked them to tell me why” they wanted to kneel, Barber said. The players explained not only that they had seen San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick do the same in the NFL but that they understood why.
After receiving approval from all of the players’ parents and the Bulls’ executive board, the entire team knelt on the sideline with their hands on each other’s shoulders. The Bulls went on to beat the Pasadena Panthers 27-0. It wasn’t until Saturday night that Barber realized people were talking—and texting and posting.
The reaction was mixed. Some, like King and Kaepernick, expressed support for the Bulls, but there was also a significant amount of vitriol lobbed at the players. “There’s been a lot of hate,” April Parkerson, the mother of a Bulls player, told the Enterprise. Online commenters have used the n-word, said the Bulls should have burned in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and threatened to lynch the coaches and players. “We have someone who commented, ‘kill them all,’ in response to someone who was showing support for our organization,” Parkerson told KTRK. Even the Bulls former coach Tre Martin came out against the protest, telling KHOU that it’s “a travesty, it is awful, it is wrong as it can be. Those kids don’t understand what’s going on. I mean, some of them do, but most of those babies don’t know why they’re kneeling other than their coach told them.”
Still, the death threats alone are indicative that racism is age-blind, so it’s hard to believe that a group of black children would be unaware of the problems Kaepernick is protesting against. Kids of all ages are exposed to graphic videos of fatal police shootings that make the rounds on social media. Tamir Rice was just twelve-years-old when he was shot and killed by police in Cleveland. “Even though we’re kids, we can still get the information and know about the stuff that’s going on,” Parkerson’s eleven-year-old son, Jaelun, told KTRK.
Meanwhile, the team took a collective knee during the anthem for the second straight week on Saturday:
The Beaumont Bulls take a knee for the second straight game during the national anthem. pic.twitter.com/rQvaLUeFYS
— David Thompson (@daveth89) September 17, 2016
Despite the death threats, it seems like the Bulls will continue their protest. “We plan on kneeling every Saturday until the football season is done,” Parkerson told KTRK.