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Why a team of 8-year-old football players decided to kneel for national anthem

A group of youth football players in Cahokia, Ill., decided as a team to kneel to protest racial injustice in America, mirroring Colin Kaepernick’s original stand that got him exiled from football.

Members of the Junior Comanches football team demonstrated Sunday after kids asked team coaches about the protests in St. Louis over a not-guilty verdict of an officer killing a black man in 2011. Protests in the city over the unjust killing, sparked by a new verdict, have continued for days.

Jason Stockley, a white officer, killed Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. Dashcam recordings showed Stockley saying he was going to “kill that motherfucker” while he and another officer pursued Smith assuming he was a part of an earlier drug deal. Stockley ended up shooting Smith five times.

Following a discussion by the youth players who saw protests on televisions at home, Orlando Gooden, a Junior Comanches coach, told the Belleville News-Democrat that the idea came up during practice and that parents supported it.

“One of the kids brought it up and asked, ‘What’s going on in St. Louis? Why are they demonstrating and rioting?’” Gooden said. “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.”

The coach and his team have received a combination of support and vitriol. Some have suggested the team be removed from their youth league. Gooden saw that commenters on social media thought he influenced the kids to kneel. He said that wasn’t true.

“I know some of the people talk and speak as if I told the kids to turn around and that. I didn’t,” Gooden said. “They brought up the subject and led the discussion. I feel like once a child shows interest in a topic, you have to talk to them and teach them what you can.

“I told them kneeling is a show of respect, not for those who broke boundaries — I support only peaceful protest — but for the innocent lives that have been touched by injustice,” he continued.