A pair of high school football players have been kicked off their team for protesting during the playing of the national anthem. The teens, Larry McCullough and Cedric Ingram-Lewis of Victory & Praise Christian Academy private high school in Crosby, Texas, both informed their coach prior to their game last week that they intended to protest.
The coach, Ronnie Ray Mitchem, reportedly forbade them from protesting during the anthem, insisting that it would be inappropriate and offensive to veterans like him. They did so anyway, and Mitchem decided to boot them off the team.
“This was made clear, and I want this put on here,” Mitchem told ABC 13 News. “I have nothing against those young men, I love them. … I told them the day at practice, Thursday, if you do that, your career with the Sharks is over.
“As a veteran, I have a strong view of what I think is disrespectful,” Mitchem said.
Veterans’ responses to national anthem protests during sporting events have been mixed, with some sharing Mitchem’s view, and others—like this World War II veteran—supporting players’ right to protest inequality.
According to McCullough, Mitchem ordered the boys to take off their uniforms in front of the whole team.
“He said, ‘Take off your uniform right now,’ he had me and CJ strip down in our uniforms, the pads, the pants and all, in front of everyone,” McCullough said.
Ingram-Lewis’ mother took exception to the coach’s actions and defended her son’s right to protest.
“He has a slave master mentality,” she told local news station KTRK. “If you were to go back to that when they wanted to tell us, ‘This is what you are going to do, and this is how you do it.’ And if we didn’t comply, we were beaten, whooped, or even killed.”
The protest from McCullough and Ingram-Lewis came less than one week after similar demonstrations swept through the NFL, enflamed by President Donald Trump’s attacks on activist athletes. Specifically, Trump called football players who refuse to stand during the national anthem “son of a bitch,” and said they should be fired, which set off a wave of players taking a knee during the national anthem.
The original protest, started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, was a statement against police brutality and violence against black Americans. Originally, Kaepernick remained seated during the anthem, but he ultimately decided to kneel instead, on the advice of fellow NFL player and military veteran Nate Boyer.