A handful of NFL players — with the most notable being Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles, Devin McCourty of the Patriots and free agent Anquan Boldin — have stepped up to ease a big financial burden for a youth football team that was punished this past fall for staging a protest against the national anthem.
The then-Beaumont Bulls thought long and hard about kneeling for the national anthem as a team — inspired by Colin Kaepernick’s actions in the NFL — but their protest was met with more negatively than social engagement. Head coach Rah Rah Barber was suspended and a number of players distanced themselves from the program in support of their head coach. That led to the Bay Area Football League canceling the rest of the team’s games, which meant a ton of 11-to-12-year-old boys were out of luck.
The good news is, for those players, that wasn’t the end of the story. More than 50 of the players from that Beaumont Bulls organization decided to make a switch to the Texas Youth Football Association to pioneer the inaugural season of the Southeast Texas Oilers.
Starting a new team in a league can be very expensive, but that’s where the aforementioned coalition of NFL players come in.
The players donated $20,000 to the organization, covering the cost of helmets, shoulder pads, tackling dummies, blocking pads, a hydration station, field striking kit, down markers and footballs, according to a report from Tim McManus of ESPN.com. Oilers’ vice-president April Parkerson figured that it would have taken a year and a half for the team to fundraise even half of that money on its own.
Jenkins gave his thoughts, via McManus, saying that he wanted the kids to know that their protest in the name of civil rights was brave and something they shouldn’t have been punished for.
“We wanted to make sure that we sent those kids the message that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in,” Jenkins told ESPN. “We didn’t want them to walk away from the season feeling punished for trying to do the right thing. We wanted to make sure that was rewarded and acknowledged and encouraged, so that was our main motivation for helping.”
Smith also released a statement:
“I believe it’s important for our youth to have a voice. To put a muzzle on them is a disservice to everyone,” Smith said in a statement. “We must continue to educate them and empower them to be the leaders of tomorrow. They need to know that their influence transcends the football field. Protesting in a non-traditional way shouldn’t keep our youth from playing the game we all love.”
Notably, the Southeast Texas Oilers are planning on still boycotting the National Anthem this season. They’ve decided to not play the anthem before home games this season, citing the third verse of”The Star-Spangled Banner”, which references slaves. They will instead play either “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful”.
(H/T USA Today Sports)