High School Sports

West High football players who knelt during national anthem aren't speaking publicly

The six West High players who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before a Saturday football game aren't speaking publicly about their actions, according to a Tuesday statement from the Anchorage School District.

The players took a knee when the song played before their team's 47-7 homecoming win over South at West High.

West coach Tim Davis declined to discuss the incident Tuesday.

"ASD released a statement," he said. "We're going with that statement."

The players' decision to kneel came at a time when many athletes across the country — from high school to the NFL — are kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and oppression.

In an emailed statement, the school district said "the students have communicated that they do not wish to speak to the media at all this week."

ASD spokeswoman Heidi Embley said that message was delivered to the school district by West principal Rick Stone after he met with players Monday.

Players were not available to the media after Saturday's game — at the time Stone said the players couldn't talk because they had to get ready for homecoming activities — and three of the players didn't respond to messages left on Twitter.

Lazono Martin, Turek Taylor, Justin Tovio, Manase Asi, Fia Faalata and a player who couldn't be identified all kneeled during the anthem. Davis spoke briefly about their decision after the game.

"I think any action a player takes needs to be well thought out, and they need to have a thought process behind it, whatever that action is," he said.

Embley said Stone met with players Monday to ask if the players who kneeled did so because of anything that's happening at West High.

"The students demonstrated some level of concern," Embley said, "so the principal wanted to meet with them to ask, 'Is this something going in the school? If it's something going on in school we need to talk about how the school can support the students.' "

During that meeting, Embley said, players told Stone they didn't want to talk to members of the media.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first to refuse to stand during the national anthem, something he first did at an August preseason NFL game.

After refusing to stand for the national anthem for a second preseason game, Kaepernick told NFL reporters he is "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

[Colin Kaepernick kneels during US national anthem, continuing protest]

The movement has since gained momentum with players across many sports kneeling.

On Friday, the entire Garfield High School team in Seattle knelt for the national anthem.

Megan Rapinoe — a player for the United States women's national soccer team and Seattle Reign of the National Women's Soccer League — has also kneeled during the anthem.

West High junior Zach Steinberg, who is not a football player, said Saturday's action has provoked a lot of discussion at the school.

"Some people joke about it, some people are really serious about it," Steinberg said. "Everybody has a different opinion on it."

Steinberg said he supports the six students if they are doing something they truly believe in.

The ASD said in a statement that it "supports all students' right to free speech as long as it does not impede others."

The district's policy on patriotic assembly gives students the right to not participate in the daily Pledge of Allegiance:  "A student who chooses not to participate must maintain a respectful silence and may not be disruptive while others are reciting the pledge."

Beth Bragg contributed to this report.

Stephan Wiebe

Stephan Wiebe writes about all things Alaska sports.