St. Louis-area youth football team kneels during anthem

Youth football protest. (Screen shot via Facebook)

Colin Kaepernick’s protests of the national anthem have run throughout the national conversation for more than a year, and now his influence has reached even the youngest levels of football.

All the players on Cahokia Quarterback Club youth football team, located in Belleville, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis, knelt during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to a game on Sunday. The team of 8-year-olds made the move, coach Orlando Gooden said, in response to riots wracking the city in the wake of another white police officer being found not guilty in a fatal shooting of a black man in a case with several questionable circumstances.

Prior to the game on Sunday, one of Gooden’s players asked him if he’d seen the rioting in St. Louis. Gooden replied yes, and asked the player if he knew why there was rioting. “Because black people are getting killed and nobody’s going to jail,” the player responded, according to Gooden.

At that point, Gooden said, he saw a “good teaching moment,” and began telling the team about the roots of Kaepernick’s protests. Kaepernick, and others who have protested in his wake, has repeatedly emphasized that the protests are not aimed at disrespecting either the flag itself or the military, but instead hopes to bring awareness to abuses of police power. St. Louis has emerged as one of the flashpoints of the abuse-of-power debate, and St. Louis communities are thus far more attuned to the question of law enforcement conduct than most.

One of the players reportedly asked if the team could kneel the way Kaepernick did, and Gooden replied, “As long as we know why we’re doing it, I don’t have a problem with any of it.” The kids knelt during the anthem, and one observer captured the scene on video.

There are, of course, at least two ways of looking at the kids’ protests. On one hand, the kids are learning about the right to speak their mind in a peaceful way. They’re learning to make their point in a way that might be uncomfortable or upsetting for people just wanting to watch a football game, but certainly a way far preferable to rioting and violence. On the other hand, this move opens up the kids to all kinds of abuse, and it’s safe to say that an 8-year-old probably doesn’t grasp the full symbolic implications of either the national anthem or a protest of it.

“What I teach my kids is love, integrity, honesty, fairness, respect and boundaries,” Gooden said. “As long as I have support of my parents and team, I’m perfectly fine, and I’m covered under the First Amendment to peacefully protest and assemble.”

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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