The recent controversy over NFL players kneeling, locking arms or standing for the national anthem has many Americans on different sides of the issue.
The issue has also effected lower levels of football. Some Tarrant County coaches chose to address the matter with their teams. Some coaches didn’t.
The choice of whether to discuss or not to discuss came down to a coach knowing his players and making the decision in the best interest of his program.
In games covered by Star-Telegram reporters and correspondents this past weekend, there were no instances of a player or players taking a knee before or during the national anthem. We interviewed several Tarrant County coaches. Several asked to remain anonymous.
‘If they were going to kneel or stand ... they were going to do it as one’
“I talked to our team about this the Monday after it happened,” one coach said. “I told them that if they were going to kneel or stand for the anthem, they were going to do it as one, because they represent the school.”
In Arlington, Martin head coach Bob Wager said he talked about the issue with his captains. He believed it was a time to use the moment to teach and communicate openly.
“The good thing is that it creates an open dialogue,” Wager said. “It gives us a platform. They’re not shy about sharing their feelings. We don’t stick our heads in the sand. In every one of those situations, it gives the opportunity to teach and listen.”
The Arlington school district created a partnership with its local police department. Following the shooting death of former Martin player Carl Wilson in 2015, Arlington police chief Will Johnson and former athletic director Kevin Ozee developed a program, Coach 5-0, to build and maintain a relationship with the Arlington police.
This program is present at Lamar, Sam Houston, Seguin, Arlington High and Bowie and has spread into the Mansfield ISD.
Wager said three officers come out to the campus each week. One may lift with the team. Officers are also on the sidelines during games. On Saturday mornings following a team run, there’s a coffee social between players, the community and officers.
“It’s a mentorship and partnership and you see police officers in a different environment,” Wager said. “It gives us a different perspective. They’re human beings. It’s a blanket statement. It’s made an impact with us.”
‘We use more energy and drama to be upset or angry than we do to get along’
While other coaches didn’t discuss kneeling with their teams, they still had a lot on their minds.
“Until you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see what they deal with, you would be not so quick to react,” one coach said. “You want to draw strength and not cause a bigger problem.”
Coaches said they did not feel or sense any pressure from their communities to choose to kneel or to stand.
While one coach was critical of recent media coverage, he considered the choice to stand or kneel a matter of preference.
“It’s an act of personal solitude,” he said. “When I was standing for the anthem, I didn’t look around to see what was going on. Really, I didn’t care to look. To me, it’s like a prayer. You understand those rights are the most significant rights in the world.”
What no coach wanted was for the issue to turn into a distraction. For most programs, the district season has started, as has the push toward the postseason.
But Carroll coach Hal Wasson laid it out simply — do the ends justify the means?
“We use more energy and drama to be upset or angry than we do to get along,” Wasson said. “There are a lot of things in the past that we can choose to learn from and educate ourselves and be better for it.”