East High School football players take a knee

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Weeks before the controversy exploded in the stadiums of the National Football League, East High football players were making their own statement by taking a knee during the anthem in a game.

“If they want to take a knee they should,” parent Tajuana Coleman said.

Even on the sidelines, cheerleaders were kneeling in silence.

“No one is getting violent, it’s just kneeling or standing,” said another parent, Toyia Johnson.

Since East High athletes had already taken a knee in one previous game, it seemed once the national anthem started, they might continue in the matchup Thursday night against Craigmont.

They didn’t — players from both teams took the field without observing the anthem.

It`s not clear why the anthem wasn’t played, but the ACLU issued a statement supporting student-athletes’ decision to protest injustice and not be punished for their choice. Parents on both sides of the Craigmont/East game agree.

“We are not talking about disrespecting the flag; we are talking about all the injustices taking place and someone finally taking a stand.”

“Know the reason you’re kneeling. Not just doing it because everyone else is doing it.”

The Shelby County School district also released a statement Friday afternoon saying they respect student’s right to free expression.

“Students who kneel or join arms during the national anthem are expressing their rights protected by the First Amendment,” officials said.

They said the district policy says “no student shall be compelled to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or National Anthem if the student or the student’s parent/legal guardian objects on religious, philosophical or other grounds.”

The District does expect students expressions to be “respectful of others and peaceful in nature,” and that any demonstration that impedes others or disrupts safety “will not be tolerated.”

County Commissioner Terry Roland offered his comment on SCS statement.

“This is not a First Amendment issue — this is about patriotism and pushing a political agenda,” said Roland.

But as the stadium lights dim, parents say taking a knee has a much bigger meaning than the outcome of the game.