- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A team of 8-year-old football players and their coaches took a knee during the national anthem in Illinois on Sunday as a demonstration of solidarity with St. Louis protesters.

Orlando “Doc” Gooden, head coach of the Junior Comanches youth football team, said the players decided to make the gesture ahead of Sunday’s game in Belleville, an Illinois suburb of St. Louis, after discussing the verdict in the trial of former police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Mr. Stockley’s not-guilty verdict last week has sparked violent clashes in St. Louis, and Mr. Gooden said one of the young team players asked him why people were protesting, a local Fox affiliate reported.

“One of the kids asked me if I saw [people] protesting and rioting in St. Louis. I said yes; I said, ‘Do you know why they are doing it?’” Mr. Gooden recalled.

He said his player responded, “Because black people are getting killed, and nobody’s going to jail.”

Mr. Gooden added, “I felt like it was a good teaching moment for me to circle the team and have a meeting.”

The coach said he explained why former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem, to protest racial injustice in America, and the kids asked if they could do the same.

“I said, ‘As long as we know why we’re doing it, I don’t have a problem with any of it,’ ” Mr. Gooden said.

The coach said the children came up with the protest on their own and that he didn’t sway them one way or the other. Video taken Sunday, obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat, showed every single player and two coaches kneeling on the field as someone sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the loudspeaker. Parents in attendance reportedly supported the gesture.

“I know some of the people talk and speak as if I told the kids to turn around and that. I didn’t,” Mr. Goodentold the News-Democrat. “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 said.

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