San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the pre-game national anthem has had a ripple effect all across the country, including in Texas. Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality and police brutality has prompted similar demonstrations, and it’s also sparked discussions here about race relations, police brutality, and whether certain situations should be exempt from such protests. Here’s how Texans have reacted so far.
Houston Texans veteran lineman Duane Brown became the first NFL player on a Texas team to stage a protest during the anthem, raising his fist before last Thursday night’s matchup against the New England Patriots. Brown told the Houston Chronicle that the demonstration was “a symbol of my support and raising awareness for the recent killings of unarmed black men… It keeps happening, so it’s very frustrating.” Brown had the backing of head coach Bill O’Brien, who told the Chronicle later that “Duane expressed himself, which is his right.”
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shared O’Brien’s sentiment. The cerebral basketball czar went pretty deep earlier this week, discussing the different experiences African-Americans and white people have in the U.S., and saying that he respects his players’ right to protest. “I think race is the elephant in the room in our country,” Popovich told reporters at the Spurs’ media event on Monday, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “The social situation that we’ve all experienced is absolutely disgusting in a lot of ways… I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that.”
Pop pulled no punches, going in on those he felt were misinterpreting Kaepernick’s protest:
“With Kaepernick, a pretty good group of people immediately thought he was disrespecting the military. It had nothing to do with his protest. In fact, he was able to do what he did because of what the military does for us. Most thinking people understand that, but there’s always going to be an element that wants to jump on a bandwagon, and that’s what’s unfortunate about our country. It’s gotten to a point where the civility and the level of discourse is basically in the gutter.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was significantly less woke in his response to Kaepernick’s protest earlier this month, and praised his players for not protesting. “I got to give a big pat on the back to our entire team, our coaching staff, our entire organization,” Jones said in a radio interview, according to the Dallas Morning News. Here are his full comments:
“We strongly, strongly support the flag. In every way, we support—it’s almost ridiculous to be saying it—the people that for generations and generations have given it all up so we can get out here and show off in front of millions of people on television. We respect that so much. That’s the real business. The forum of the NFL and the forum on television is a very significant thing. I’m for it being used in every way we can to support the great, great contributors in our society and that’s people that have supported America, the flag, and there’s no reason not to go all out right there. For anybody to use parts of that visibility to do otherwise is really disappointing.”
Also disappointed by Kaepernick’s protest were Senator Ted Cruz and Ag Commissioner Sid Miller. Cruz took to Twitter to express his displeasure with Kaepernick, calling him a “rich spoiled” athlete:
Here's a peaceful protest: never buy another shoe, shirt, or jersey of rich spoiled athletes who dishonor our flag. https://t.co/GrGPYX8HCh
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 12, 2016
Miller took Cruz’s boycott to another level, threatening via Facebook to boycott the entire NFL:
Later, Miller slightly softened his promise to boycott the league, telling the Texas Tribune that he’d still root for the Cowboys because of Jones’s stance. “It’s not about [the players], it’s about being an American and being an example,” Miller told the Tribune. “I’m going to boycott everybody except the Dallas Cowboys.”
Even NFL dropout Johnny Manziel weighed in, taking some time away from partying/studying to express his support for Kaepernick. He told TMZ last week that “I think Colin Kaepernick’s standing up for what he believes in and he has a right to do that.”
Kaepernick’s protest has perhaps had the greatest impact on young Texans. Before Southern Methodist University’s football game last Friday, a handful of African-American members of the SMU band knelt during the anthem, along with a small group of people in the student section, some wearing tee-shirts that read “#BlackAtSMU.” The SMU protest came during a game that also honored the Dallas police officers killed in July’s shooting. Police Chief David Brown did the coin flip.
“I’m not against all police officers, I’m not saying all cops are bad, I’m not saying all Caucasian people are bad, because they’re not,” student protester Coda Boyce told the Dallas Morning News. “I just believe that the injustice being shown in the past couple of years has been too much to handle. And I’m a little tired of it. So if I have to knee during the national anthem—I still support the troops, and I still support the police officers who are doing their rightful job. If it comes to that, if the message needs to be given every week, then yes, absolutely, I will do it every week.”
The next day, Texas State students staged a sit-in during the national anthem before the Bobcats’ football game against the University of Houston, sitting down in their bleacher seats and raising their fists as the anthem played, according to the Houston Chronicle.
At the high school level, three football players at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth knelt during the national anthem before a game this season, and DeSoto High School, near Dallas, has been particularly active in duplicating Kaepernick’s protest. The DeSoto girl’s volleyball team knelt before a game last week, and the school’s cheerleading squad—joined by some cheerleaders from the opposing team—took a knee before last Friday’s football game. In a letter posted on DeSoto ISD’s website, the district expressed its support for students who protest. “This is in no way exclusive of the respect we have for our members of the armed forces and those who have fought to provide that freedom,” the letter says. “The fact of the matter is that these young adults want a country that is even better—one that upholds the rights of every man, women, and child equally… This was a peaceful, non-confrontational action for our young adults to communicate their frustrations and fears for events taking place beyond DeSoto. We respect their right to do so.”
Not every school district in Texas has been so accommodating. Crosby ISD, outside Houston, originally told student-athletes they wouldn’t see the field if they protested during the anthem. But after critics pointed out that the policy seemingly threatened to stifle students’ First Amendment rights, the district recanted. Superintendent Keith Moore posted a lengthy and extremely introspective explanation for the decision on Facebook, according to KTRK: “I laid in bed up until this 3:00 am, sleepless as I struggled with an issue that is more complex than maybe any other i [sic] have faced… So, what I sit here struggling with after several hours of thought is, is it appropriate for me to demand that the students under my care find another way to make their voices heard, because I personally feel there are much better ways to express themselves besides kneeling during the National Anthem? The conclusion that I have come to after staring at the ceiling for several hours is no, it is not.”
In Midland, an eight-year-old boy was allegedly sent home from school this week because he refused to stand for the pledge. “I kneeled because it was justice for black people getting murdered,” he told KOSA. The boy’s mother told the news station that her son had been particularly affected by the 2014 fatal police shooting of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Midland ISD claimed the student was sent home because of an “outburst,” not because of the protest. “A child’s expression during the pledge is fine,” superintendent Rod Schroder said in a statement. “We respect the right of children to express their feelings in this manner as long as it does not interfere with the rights of other students.”
Meanwhile, officials at Beaumont ISD—which has a majority African-American student body—has not rolled back its policy banning students from protesting during the national anthem, which was put in place in response to Kaepernick’s protest. “As a governmental entity, our job is to teach our students to be good citizens and part of that is to encourage them to honor the flag,” Beaumont ISD athletic director Bruce Bell said, according to the Beaumont Enterprise. “We want them to support the anthem and this country.” It’s unclear how, exactly, the district will go about enforcing this ban.
Kaepernick’s protest seems to be particularly divisive in East Texas. A youth football team consisting of eleven- and twelve-year-olds from Beaumont have been kneeling before the pre-game anthem for weeks. Video of their protest quickly went viral, and while it garnered support on social media from Kaepernick himself, the team has also received death threats and racist comments in response. Conversely, a cigar lounge in League City also went viral after taping a Kaepernick jersey to the ground and using it as a doormat outside the store, according to the Enterprise.
There will likely be more protests and counter-protest responses in Texas, particularly with the start of the NBA season approaching. Given Popovich’s comments, it’s certainly possible that the Spurs could stage the next high-profile pre-game anthem protest in Texas.