Something amazingly powerful is happening all over the country with America’s youth.
In 34 states, with at least 44 high schools, 21 colleges, and 2 youth sports leagues, brilliant, bold, courageous young student athletes – ranging from football players to cheerleaders to volleyball players and marching bands have all taken a knee during the Star Spangled Banner to protest police brutality and racial justice in America. Of all the parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement, nothing reminds me more of what happened in the 1960s than seeing the courage of America’s youth staging demonstrations all over this country. It’s a beautiful thing.
For them, perhaps because the world has not yet squeezed out all of their hope and optimism, or maybe because they know they have far more time left on this earth than most of us, they each feel like taking a knee is a risk worth taking. Beautifully, they still believe this country can change. Hell, that’s what’s what we taught them – that the United States has had high highs and low lows, but after real struggles, it can change.
But this morning I want to tell everybody about one particularly bold, brave group of 11 & 12 year old boys in Beaumont, Texas and the adults that have absolutely failed these young kids. Of all the protests across America, from Colin Kaepernick and 45 other NFL players to women in the WNBA to professional soccer players, swimmers, and brothers in the NBA, no athletes in America have paid a higher price for their protest than the 11 & 12 year old boys of the Beaumont Bulls football team in Beaumont, Texas.
Situated smack in the middle between Houston to the west and Lafayette, Louisiana to the east, Beaumont is one of the many Texas towns which lives and breathes football. Many families in Beaumont have now been playing the game for generations. It’s what you do. Several brothers from Beaumont have gone on to play in the NFL.
Now, when we think of injustice, we often think about the NYPD or LAPD, or sometimes we even think of Mississippi and Alabama, but police brutality, wrongful arrests, and racial violence have long since plagued black folk in Texas and Louisiana. Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Sandra Bland died right outside of Prairie View, and some of our listeners may remember when white supremacists lynched James Byrd in Jasper Texas back in 1998. James and his family were actually from Beaumont.
So, within days of Kaepernick staging his protest back in August, the coaching staff of the Beaumont Bulls, an all black team with an all black coaching staff led by head coach Rah-Rah Barber, privately started talking about the possibility of them taking a knee before their next game, before ultimately deciding against it. The coaches didn’t want to impose anything on the students. To their surprise, though, the young boys came to them and told them they wanted to take a knee. The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police just two months prior had not only shaken Kaepernick and the Beaumont Bulls coaching staff, they deeply bothered the young students as well.
So, on September 10th, after getting permission from league officials, the staff and students of the Beaumont Bulls football team took a knee before their game. We’ll post their pictures on Black America Web. The boys won that game 27-0 and garnered national attention for their demonstration. But within just 24 hours, the kids and their families began receiving death threats and racist taunts both online and off. People literally began threatening to lynch, hang, and burn these little boys. At first, the executive board of the team and the league issued strong statements of support backing the boys, but within a few days everything fell apart.
First, the coaches were told not to allow the boys to take a knee again. When Coach Barber and the boys refused their order, they suspended their head coach for the rest of the season.
Many parents told me that they were banned from the team and told that while their sons would be allowed to continue playing if they wanted to, the parents were no longer allowed to attend games, practices, or events and that if they did, they’d be arrested.
The kids were devastated and confused. An assistant coach for the team, Alfred Dean, who is also a six year Army veteran, who had also taken a knee with the team, decided it was all just too much and submitted his resignation.
Determined to play a game of chicken with these young boys, the executive board decided that instead of reinstating the coaches and allowing the protests, they’d simply cancel the rest of the season – and that’s exactly what they did. The Beaumont Bulls, in spite of paying fees for a full season, and being in the playoff race for their league, had the rug pulled out from under them. No sports team in the country has gone this far in response to Star Spangled Banner protests.
These young boys and their coaches are heroes. Millions of people all over the world have seen their photos and read about their demonstration. I spoke with Colin Kaepernick yesterday and he’s grieved that these young boys have had football taken from them.
That narrow minded adults have now canceled their season, and denied these young boys a chance to fight on, is a travesty. It’s gravely immature and short-sighted of team and league officials to allow it all to go down like this. What lessons does this teach the kids? What has it taught them about their right to protest? What has it taught them about quitting or playing through adversity?
It’s not too late. While the whole thing is a mess, the team and the league still has time to reinstate Coaches Barber and Dean, apologize to the boys and their parents, and allow them to finish their season with dignity. I was about to say that this would require the adults to act like adults, but I’m afraid that that’s what messed the whole thing up in the first place. Adults today are too often petty and mean-spirited. Just take a look at our presidential race. Instead, we need the adults in this situation to stop thinking about their egos and think instead of the young boys of the Beaumont Bulls. Salvaging their season should be the top priority right now. Anything short of that would be a failure.
Boys – you’ve done well. You were right to take a knee for injustice. You were right to follow the lead of so many NFL players. You were right to keep doing it even when they told you not to. You did not create this mess. It’s not your fault. We have your back and whether you all start a new league or come back to this one, we’ll be waiting for you.