Every player from an 8-and-under football team took a knee in protest during the national anthem before their game on Saturday, according to KTVI in Belleville, Illinois.
“One of the kids asked me if I saw (people) protesting and rioting in St. Louis. I said yes; I said, ‘Do you know why they are doing it?'” said Coach Orlando Gooden during a phone interview with the news station on Tuesday.
Gooden told the news station that one of the players responded, “Because black people are getting killed and nobody’s going to jail.”
Gooden, a former football player at the University of Missouri, said his players were aware of the recent Jason Stockley decision, which saw an ex-St. Louis officer acquitted in a fatal shooting of a black driver and led to numerous protests.
“I felt like it was a good teaching moment for me to circle the team and have a meeting,” he said.
Gooden said he spoke with his team about that and other situations that have taken place recently in the United States and explained why free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others have knelt during the anthem in protest.
“One of the kids asked, ‘Can we do that?’ I said, ‘As long as we know why we’re doing it, I don’t have a problem with any of it,” he said.
According to the coach, the third graders immediately took a knee as the anthem began, with their backs — unintentionally — away from the flag.
“What I teach my kids is love, integrity, honesty, fairness, respect and boundaries,” he said.
The players’ parents reportedly supported the coach’s decision to allow the team to take a knee, however, a Facebook post from his wife reveals that there has been some backlash from other residents in the area.
“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,” Gooden said.
The move comes in the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests.