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Talking with kids about ‘taking a knee’ during the anthem

Kansas City Chiefs players Terrance Smith, Eric Fisher,

Kansas City Chiefs players Terrance Smith, Eric Fisher, Demetrius Harris and Cameron Erving bend a knee before their game on Sept. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Sean M. Haffey

Parents are always looking for teachable moments, and they have one now regarding the renewed debate over some National Football League players kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice, says Darrell Johnson, executive director of the nonprofit Positive Coaching Alliance NYC. The alliance works with student athletes and coaches in the tri-state area, including Nassau County.

Any opportunity to leverage such a moment in sports is very valuable, Johnson says. “There is no other landscape that is as great as youth sports to teach life lessons,” he says.

And in this case, sports is manifesting itself in real life, Johnson says. Parents should open the conversation with their children about what’s going on — discussing both the athletes who are kneeling to protest police brutality against people of color in the United States in what they say is a gesture of their freedom of speech, and those who object, including President Trump, arguing that kneeling instead of standing is unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans who have fought for our country’s freedom.

“We don’t tell parents to line up on one side of the issue,” says Johnson, who lives in Connecticut and is the father of a high school football player. But have the conversation with the child, whether an elementary school, middle school, high school or college athlete, he says. It’s OK to say, “This is a particularly tough topic,” Johnson says.

It’s even tough for Johnson. “This is one even in my own household that we’re trying to sort out what our perspective is. My vantage point is it is more about listening to what my son’s perspective was and what he was hearing from other athletes and his coaches. He can’t form an opinion until he completely understands all sides.”

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