Marshwood High senior James Thompson says pro athletes are protesting for good reasons, but kneeling during the national anthem isn’t right. “It’s your country. You show it respect,” he said. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

High school athletes, coaches and administrators across Maine are grappling with the increasingly bitter debate over whether kneeling during the national anthem is an acceptable form of protest.

Mostly they were diplomatic and hesitant to take a stance Monday. Some, though, spoke their minds.

Jordan Roddy, a senior at Cony High School in Augusta who is black, said he is positioned closer to the national discussion than most people in his school and his community.

“I live in an area where there’s not a lot of African-Americans,” he said. “It doesn’t directly affect me. It’s not like I’m somewhere where it’s really, really a problem with rioting and all that stuff, but I do follow it because it does affect me on a personal level.”

James Thompson, a senior at Marshwood High School in South Berwick who is white, said standing during the anthem is about respect.

“My family always taught me that we stand up for the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s your country. You show it respect,” he said. “(Protesters) have a good reason. There is poverty and injustice. They’re trying to support a better life for everybody. But I think they should (protest) in another way. It’s not the right way to do it.”

The discussion began last fall when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee before a game to protest racial injustice in the wake of high-profile police shootings. It was a controversial move, and he was both hailed and vilified for it, but the issue had largely been confined to sports talk radio until President Trump elevated it Friday with bombastic comments that led to new protests.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,'” Trump said at a rally in Alabama.

Although some supported Trump’s tough talk, many condemned his rhetoric, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has supported Trump.

Many in Maine said they are paying attention to the national debate. Although there have been no known protests at athletic events in Maine, local officials said they could be forced to address the matter.

“We’ve had internal discussions, but I wouldn’t say there is a set protocol,” said Dennis Walton, athletic director in Biddeford.

Geoff Godo, athletic director at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, said he wouldn’t initiate disciplinary action if a student protested during the national anthem.

“I think people have the right to express themselves,” he said. “As a coach, I would think you want to talk about it, but you can’t penalize anyone for expressing themselves. Expression is important, and there’s a very fine line public schools can walk on when telling students what they can and can’t do.”

Rich Buzzell, athletic director at Marshwood High, said the school doesn’t have a policy for handling such protests.

Kyle Glidden, a senior at Marshwood High School, said, “Respecting the flag is just something I’m accustomed to doing. I do appreciate everything that I have. … There are people who are less privileged and don’t believe that America has equality. I do see where they’re coming from.” Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“We would allow the kids to respectfully show their (beliefs),” he said. “If we didn’t feel it was disrespectful, we would allow it.” Buzzell said he believes standing shows respect for service members. His father served in the Army and his uncle died in Vietnam.

Kyle Glidden, a senior at Marshwood, sees both sides.

“It’s such a controversial topic,” he said. “There are obviously things in the country going on that are wrong. There’s racism. There’s prejudice and sexism. But at the same time, we have a freedom in our country and a sense of, when the national anthem is playing, a sense of respect to the country.”

For him, though, standing is the only option.

“Respecting the flag is just something I’m accustomed to doing. I do appreciate everything that I have. I’m a pretty privileged guy,” he said. “There are people who are less privileged and don’t believe that America has equality. I do see where they’re coming from.”

Some officials refused to discuss the issue.

“I’m going to take a pass,” said Melanie Craig, athletic director at Deering High School. “This is just way too controversial.”

Deering High coach Jason Jackson admitted he has strong feelings about the protests, but declined to comment further. His players at practice Monday declined to speak with a reporter.

Todd Livingston, athletic director in South Portland, also declined, citing recent “controversies.”

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last year found that 54 percent of Americans disapproved of protests during the national anthem while 38 percent approved. White Americans disapproved at a higher level, 63 percent; 74 percent of black American approved of the protests. The survey of 1,391 adults also found that younger people were more likely to approve.

Dick Durost, longtime executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, which oversees high school athletics, said the topic of protesting during the national anthem first arose last fall. He said Trump’s comments Friday “threw gasoline on the fire,” and said it’s possible the topic will come up again.

Jordan Roddy, a senior at Cony High School in Augusta, says players don’t want their political views to affect their game day. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“Our advice would simply be for each school to make their own decision,” he said. “But we would suggest finding out why people are choosing to protest and make sure they understand what they are doing and not just copy-catting.”

Durost said if student-athletes want to protest, he hopes they would talk to their coaches and administrators beforehand.

Joseph Schwartzman, athletic administrator for Kennebunk High School, said although high school athletes often take their cues from professional athletes, he also said he’s not sure whether this topic is on their radar.

“Sometimes if you bring something like this up and make a big deal out of it, it becomes a bigger deal,” he said.

Roddy, the Cony student-athlete, said he thinks as much about being a disruption as he does about the issue of protesting racism.

“I think we’re all relatively on the same page as far as we don’t want our personal opinions or political views to affect our game day,” he said. “As much as maybe some of us do have our own opinions and our own ideas about what should be happening, we don’t want it to separate us.”

His coach, B.L. Lippert, made the same point. Lippert said he and his team stand for the anthem. But as a social studies teacher, he wouldn’t castigate a player for taking a stance.

“I’m not in a position to tell kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different racial backgrounds, how they should and shouldn’t protest,” he said.

Press Herald Staff Writer Kevin Thomas and Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this story.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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