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Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016: Entire top-ranked soccer team kneels for anthem

   Leading off today: We had an expression that we used at my old job with FOXSports.com: "Let's not chase the score."

   That was in reference to our promotional obligations to the FOX mothership when it was broadcasting a big sporting event and it also applied to major games on other networks. The philosophy was that we needed to put a photo and a teaser on the website's home page to acknowledge that the game was in progress, but we weren't going to tie up valuable editing time by constantly updating the graphic with the current score or other game details. If users wanted that, they could turn on the TV or just make one additional click on our website to reach the live scores page.

   I made a "let's not chase the score" decision for this website earlier this month when the Colin Kaepernick/national anthem controversy began. I knew it would trickle down to the high school level (and do so in New York), but I also knew I'd grow weary of reporting every new development. And that you would be fatigued by reading about every new development.

   With that in mind, I've only made a handful of mentions of the ongoing story this month, keeping the proverbial powder dry unless there was something that moved the story forward a bit.

   Today is one of those days when the issue makes it back into the blog. You can bail out here if you want and return this evening when I'll blog again with other news of the day. Otherwise, keep reading.

   Waving the flag: Proctor senior Damion Walton made his own statement Saturday in Utica when he ran halfway across the field and grabbed the American flag from an ROTC color guard that had just lined up in formation on the 50-yard line in front of the Syracuse Nottingham bench.

   Walton rejoined his teammates in the end zone, then sprinted with the flag in his right hand to midfield after the team's introduction. Walton waved the flag a few circles in the air as teammates converged in a jumping circle. Walton then returned the flag to the color guard.

   Walton's gesture would have qualified as somewhat newsworthy in itself, but the fact that he did it before a game vs. Nottingham made the moment more significant since some Bulldogs players had been participating in anthem protests in previous games and six chose to do so Saturday as the Proctor student band played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

   And until early Tuesday evening (I'll explain that shortly) the Nottingham protests may have been the most noteworthy in the state at the high school level.

   "It wasn't anything to attack the Nottingham players (kneeling) down," Walton told Syracuse.com. "It was almost like a wake-up call; that this is the right way to handle the situation and there are better ways to protest and handle the situation without disrespecting the America flag."

   Walton's statement deserves some context. As the website notes, Walton happens to be the commanding officer of the Proctor Junior ROTC program, which Raiders head football coach Steve Strife says has 300-400 members. Walton said he plans to apply for admission to the U.S. Naval Academy and is investigating political science as a major.

   Adding another level to the discussion, the website reported Walton's ethnicity is multi-racial -- and he agrees with Kaepernick's cause.

   "I don't think anyone can really disagree with the reasoning he is doing it for," Walton said, "That there are unjust things going on and not correct. It's just that the act of sitting down during the national anthem is the wrong way to protest."

   The latest protest: Not that I'm actively ranking the protests, but World of Inquiry School in Rochester is probably the new leader in the clubhouse for the most significant anthem protest in the state thus far.

   On Tuesday, the state's top-ranked boys Class C soccer team took a knee en masse before its game at Aquinas, which resulted in a 1-0 win in overtime. All 18 players kneeled during the playing of the national anthem. Rochester City School District officials and coach Rich Paufler did not know beforehand that the players were planning to protest, according to a statement from RCSD.

   "They were all going to do it or none of them would do it," said Michael Lopez, whose son Miguel plays for World of Inquiry. "I as a parent and as a coach and a mentor to these boys, who I have concern for, will not tolerate any interference (for them) exercising their constitutional rights to protest the violence against the black people in America by police."

   Carlos Cotto, the athletic director for the district, told the Democrat and Chronicle that players were given a letter on Wednesday to take home and share with their families.

   "We want the boys to make an informed decision, but an individual decision, too, so we want their families to be a part of it," Cotto said. "We'd like them to talk about it with their parents."

   From the school district's statement: "While students have the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights, we want to ensure that they are making a well-informed

  








decision with the consent of their parents and knowledge of the school staff. "The school will communicate with the parents of team members and use this as a teachable moment for our students."

   "Teachable moment" is a phrase we frequently hear, and one that I've been known to use. So, here's a question or two for Michael Lopez, who defended players' protest of "the violence against the black people in America by police."

   Has James Weh, who leads WOI in assists, been taught about the atrocities in his native Liberia? That would include back-to-back civil wars that may have killed more than 1 million people since 1989 and included the rampant use of child soldiers?

   Has Ayub Jeylani, who leads the team in goals, been educated about his parents' homeland of Somalia, which has seen at least half a million perish during nearly non-stop unrest since the mid-1980s?

   And how about Toyi Hakizimana and Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, both born in Tanzania to parents who are Burundi refugees? Burundi's civil war from 1993 to 2006 brought about another quarter of a million or more deaths.

   America most definitely is not perfect, and we should be troubled by instances in which anyone is unjustly or recklessly killed. But where's Lopez's outrage over literally millions of deaths from around the world that have resulted in untold numbers of refugees arriving here for an indisputably better life?

   All I ask is that we make sure these kids know the whole story and don't settle for what an NFL quarterback and the sound-bite media tell them. And if they've gathered all the facts and still feel compelled to protest then so be it.

   Wrapping up: Press & Sun-Bulletin reporter Rob Centorani says he has not personally witnessed any protests this month at Section 4 contests he's attended.

   He wrote a column tying the current environment back to what he recalls from shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and concludes with this:

   "If one believes in what our country stands for, one must believe in the First Amendment. Speech is protected, as is protest. Players have every right to do as they please during the anthem.

   "What's sometimes lost is that speech cuts both ways.

   "That means it's also OK to love the USA. It's OK to think that we've done a lot more right than wrong since we started July 4, 1776. And it's OK to speak out against those whose actions appear to send a message that we're failing as a country.

   "I'll continue to stand for the national anthem. Others will continue to protest it, while I shake my head in disgust.

   "We can do both in this country.

   "That's what makes us great."

   More later: As I mentioned, there will be another blog later on Thursday to catch up on news from Wednesday and notes from earlier in the week.


  
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