Incidents involving students using school national anthems as an avenue of protest are showing no sign of stopping.
The most recent of which involves a school in Coraopolis, Western Pennsylvania, which decided to reschedule its homecoming football game because administrators feared cheerleaders would kneel during the national anthem and thus offend veterans who were invited to present the flag.
The reason for the administrators fears stemmed from a football game played on September 30th, in which cheerleaders at the Cornell High School kneeled during the national anthem while World War II veterans were serving in a nearby color guard. Like many others around the country, the students did so to protest the state of race relations in the U.S.. At first, the school superintendent, Aaron Thomas, noted that the kneeling was “symbolic speech" and supported the cheerleaders’ right to protest. However, footage of the cheerleaders' protest then went viral, causing hundreds of people to lodge complaints with the school district. In response, Thomas noted, somewhat clunkily, that he did not “intentionally invite our veterans […] to our football game to be protested in front of.” The Cornell School District issued a formal apology to the veterans.
So, in response to the backlash and social media outrage, the District caved to the pressure and opted to reschedule this week’s homecoming game to prevent further fury. According to the District’s website, as a safety precaution, the rescheduled game will be “closed to the public and only parents of football players will be permitted to attend.
The District does have legitimate concerns. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that administrators received “hundreds of threatening phone calls” and that local police are increasing patrols. Still, the closing of the annual homecoming football game will be upsetting to many community members. Students, band members, cheerleaders, alumni, and athletes’ siblings and grandparents will not be allowed to attend the game and participate in homecoming festivities.
Undeniably, many people found the cheerleaders’ protest offensive. It was also, no doubt, poorly timed given the presence of the elderly veterans. However, this does not take away from the fact the protest was fully protected by the First Amendment. Those who lodged complaints have, in essence, subjected the students' protest to a hecklers’ veto: by issuing threats, they have ensured that cheerleaders will be unable to further express their political views. The backlash transformed an opportunity for the Coraopolis community to open up a discussion on race relations into a sad moment for students, fans, and the school district as a whole.
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