An entire Illinois football team of players aged 8 and younger took a knee rather than stand for the national anthem prior to Sunday’s game in Belleville, KTVI-TV reported.
“One of the kids asked me, did I see them protesting and rioting in St. Louis,” Orlando Gooden, coach of the Cahokia Quarterback Club, told the station. “I said, ‘Yes … do you know why they are doing it?’”
A player answered, “Because black people are getting killed, and nobody’s going to jail,” Gooden recalled to the station.
Gooden — a former University of Missouri football player, KTVI reported — said his players knew that a white former St. Louis police officer was acquitted of murder Friday in a 2011 fatal shooting of a black man after a car chase. Cahokia is a just handful of minutes south of St. Louis and across the Mississippi River.
“I felt like it was a good teaching moment for me to circle the team up and have a brief meeting,” Gooden told the station, adding that he explained why former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” last season.
“One of the kids asked, ‘Can we do that?’ Those were his his words,” Gooden said to KTVI. “And I said, ‘As long as we know why we’re doing it, I don’t have a problem with kneeling.’”
With that, all 25 players took a knee during the national anthem at Little Devil’s Field.
Their backs were away from the flag, the station said, but Gooden said that wasn’t on purpose.
“What I teach my kids is love, integrity, honesty, fairness, respect … boundaries,” he told KTVI.
All the parents of the players supported their kids taking a knee, the station said, but a Facebook post by Gooden’s wife was hit with some backlash.
“As long as I have support of my parents and team, I’m perfectly fine,” the coach told KTVI, “and I’m covered under the First Amendment to peacefully protest and assemble.”
Gooden also told the station that he doesn’t see a need for his players to continue kneeling before games — that it was done once, and a lesson resulted.