JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — If any Jensen Beach High School football player chooses not to stand during the national anthem, they will have the support of their coach.
“I haven’t really said anything to my kids, but I will say this, if my kids decide to do anything, I’m going to stand behind them,” Jensen Beach coach Tim Caffey said Tuesday. “I’m not going to force them (to stand during the anthem) because you have freedom of speech, and I think that’s a perfect opportunity.
“If they want to express themselves, I’m going to stand behind them as their coach.”
This past weekend, President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who used the national anthem as a vehicle to protest racial injustices, saying owners should fire those players and referred to those who protest as a “son of a (expletive).”
In response, more than 200 individuals protested during the national anthem during NFL games Sunday and Monday.
When Caffey first read what Trump said, he thought the president had “lit the stem to the dynamite.” He realizes high school players might want to have their voice heard, too.
“I would prefer them to talk to me about it first to understand the repercussions behind it and what’s going to happen, but on the other hand, I understand why they would be doing it,” Caffey said. “They’re doing it because they feel it’s the right thing to do. They want to show some ownership of what’s happening in today’s society.
“They understand the NFL players. They understand what’s happening because some of them have probably experienced some things in their lives. Now that the door’s been opened, they’re going to walk through it.”
Fort Pierce Westwood coach Aaron Sheppard said he would be all right with Panthers players protesting, too — as long as they understand why they’re doing it.
“The thing about the anthem, I can’t stop them from kneeling,” Sheppard said. “I advised them if they don’t have a real cause or meaning, don’t jump on the bandwagon. The guys in the NFL, they can take a knee all they choose to. For my guys, make sure you’re informed before you do it. If you have a real good reason, then do it. Don’t do it because you saw it on Facebook. Don’t just do it to do it or because you see stars doing it.
“Do it because it’s your cause.”
Caffey, 49, understands both sides of the protest discussion — better than most.
As a former U.S. Navy reserve, Caffey knows what it means to salute the flag.
“The flag stands for freedom and equality,” he said. “I fought for freedom and equality.”
As an African-American who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1970s and ’80s, he identifies with those who are taking a stand against injustice and inequality.
“Yeah, you’re saluting the flag, but on the other side they’re saying, ‘What has the flag done for me?’ I get it, I understand it,” Caffey said. “You look at it from a political perspective or you look at it from a racial perspective or however you want to look at it, there’s something to be said about people making statements of things that are blatant, in your face, daily. Someone has to make a stance and at some point in time this stuff has to change.
“What’s happening now is you have the older heads that don’t want to change and you have the younger people saying, ‘We’re not standing for it anymore.’”
Caffey endured in-your-face racism throughout his life, including having the Ku Klux Klan protest his football games at East Lake Park when he was 8 years old. He remembers the stories about his aunt, Dorothy Love Coates, a gospel singer who became a civil rights activist and marched with Martin Luther King Jr.
He also vividly recalls something his mother told him 30 years ago: His mother’s generation was told to sit in the back of the bus, the generation that followed was impacted by King and fought for equal rights, his generation identified with Malcolm X and demanded equality, and the generations that follow wouldn’t stand for inequality.
“Now, she’s a prophet,” Caffey said.