SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There's a controversy in Gloucester County, N.J., that began at a football game on October 4. The national anthem was about to be played when the running back for the Gibbstown Falcons told his coach, Rashad Thomas, I want to kneel. Coach Thomas told his running back, I'll kneel with you. An assistant coach joined them. Coach Thomas told his players that no one had to kneel, but soon the whole team had joined them and held hands. They were teammates.
The Gibbstown Falcons players are 8 and 9 years old. They've seen some of the most prominent stars in sports kneel for the national anthem, and children often try to emulate sports heroes. Then parents got involved. Some in the stands began to yell profanities, according to reporting by Ellie Rushing for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Get the F up, shouted a father, who's also a member of the league's football board. Another board member, who's also the cheerleading coach, stalked into the field and pulled her son up by his shoulder pads. One parent was heard to yell, we didn't raise you that way. Some of the football players began to cry. They are 8 and 9 years old.
Four football board members voted to suspend the Falcons coaching staff, saying the coaches had ordered their team to kneel, which they had not. Those suspensions have since been lifted, and two board members have been disciplined for their actions at the game.
The Gibbstown Falcons are a team put together from two towns where enrollment in the Youth Football Leagues is down in these pandemic times - Paulsboro, where the team is about 90% Black, and Gibbstown, where the team was mostly white. Some Black families from Paulsboro say they haven't felt welcome at practices and games. The football board has apologized, saying we respect everyone's right to display their peaceful, personal expressions and belief. Many Black families still feel uncomfortable about their children playing for and their family cheering for a team in which several board members, who are also parents, cursed at their sons for kneeling with their teammates and coaches.
Somehow between all the adults swearing and suspending and apologizing, the Gibbstown Falcons have won four games and lost just one. Coach Thomas now has the words Black Lives Matter on the back of his team polo. This is not just football, he told the Inquirer. It's a life lesson, perhaps a lesson for parents, too, to stay in the stands and just watch their children.
(SOUNDBITE OF LINDSTROM AND PRINS THOMAS' "BONEY M DOWN")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.