Two of the World of Inquiry/School 58 varsity soccer players who have been kneeling in protest during the national anthem said Monday their aim has been to bring to light “issues that are bigger than soccer” — namely, racism in their community.
The team is one of the few in the Rochester area that has followed the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other prominent athletes, declining to stand for the anthem as a means of protesting what they see as the under-valuing of black people’s lives.
The soccer players, most of whom are young men of color and several of whom are immigrants attending Rochester International Academy, knelt en masse for the first time Sept. 27. In subsequent matches, including Monday’s home game versus Bishop Kearney, only a handful of players, including 15-year-old Ben Babcock and 17-year-old Miguel Camilo Lopez, knelt.
“We can’t pretend like police brutality and race relations (aren’t) a very big issue,” Lopez said after the game, a 4-0 World of Inquiry victory. “(This) brings to light issues that are bigger than soccer and bigger than ourselves.”
Babcock is one of only two white players on the team, but his parents are social justice activists who are applauding his decision.
“It doesn’t seem right to me that I would get treated better just because I’m white — better than a lot of my friends do,” Babcock said.
The protests have had one apparent effect: according to parents in attendance, Monday was the first time this season the anthem has been played at all before a home game on the Franklin campus.
In the National Football League and in scholastic sports across the country, the protests have come under attack as being disrespectful to the flag, the nation or military veterans.
In a statement last week, the Rochester City School District said it respected the players’ First Amendment right to express themselves, but suggested they needed “the consent of their parents and knowledge of school staff” to do so.
Miguel Camilo Lopez’ father, Mike Lopez, said someone vandalized his house over the weekend, apparently intending it as a message for the protesters. He also said the players have been harassed on social media.
Lopez and Babcock both said the response they’ve received has been very positive, particularly at school.
“World of Inquiry is a mostly minority school, so they also experience the racism and police harassment,” Lopez said. “They’ve been extremely supportive, and without their support, I don’t know what I’d do.”