Members of a South Jersey high school football team knelt during a rendition of the national anthem before a game Saturday to draw attention to social injustices and economic disparities.
Players and coaches from Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden carried out the silent demonstration as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played over the loudspeaker before the Tigers' home opener against Highland High.
Tigers coach Preston Brown initially planned to take a knee alone and informed his team about the decision Friday. When the anthem played over the PA system Saturday morning, most of his team joined in the demonstration.
“I am well aware of the third verse of the national anthem which is not usually sung, and I know that the words of the song were not originally meant to include people like me," Brown told NBC10 Saturday night.
The verse has been cited as a symbol of racial oppression and has been central to high-profile protests by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other sports stars. The protests have sparked a national debate about freedom of expression and the true meaning of the lyrics, adding to the continued debate over racial inequality in America.
Brown told NJ.com, which first reported the story and captured video of the demonstration, that he stood for the anthem as a "formality" all his life. He went on to say that he loves America and the military.
Woodrow Wilson's student population is predominantly African-American, a state census shows.
Two students chose not to kneel, Brown said, adding each student had the right to "exercise what they thought was right."
The Camden City School District agreed with Brown's sentiment. In a statement, spokesman Brendan Lowe said while the district supports standing for the flag, they "strongly respect" students exercising their First Amendment rights.
"Whether our students choose to stand, kneel, or otherwise, we're proud of their engagement with what is more broadly a very important social justice issue."