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LI high school coaches don’t expect NFL-like protests during national anthem

Oceanside High Schools football coach Rob Blount  on

Oceanside High Schools football coach Rob Blount  on Saturday Sept. 23, 2017. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Long Island high school football coaches and administrators contacted by Newsday on Monday said they don’t expect to see protests on the sidelines of high school games after NFL players received national attention Sunday for their response to President Donald Trump’s call for protesting players to be fired.

Oceanside coach Rob Blount, also a history teacher in the high school, said the issue has not come up in class, but he expected it to in light of Sunday’s actions by NFL players.

“It’s a touchy subject,” Blount said. “Football is the biggest sport in America and NFL players are using that as a platform to have their voices heard. All individuals have a right to voice their opinion, and our country was built on freedom of speech. But if one of our kids protested, I wonder what message they think they could get across and why they chose that moment. There’s a proper place to present those opinions. I don’t think it’s on the high school football field.”

Blount said if a player came to him wanting to protest, he would use it as teaching moment.

“I would tell him that you have freedom of speech, but you have to be ready for consequences and criticism of your actions,’’ he said. “I would educate him about the ramifications of his actions and make sure he felt strongly about the issue. As a history teacher, it’s important that we don’t give students a slanted message when we discuss politics.”

Blount said any discipline for such a protest would come from the school administration and not the coaching staff.

Dwight Singleton, the football coach and athletic director at Wyandanch, called the topic “a great debate.”

“We want our young people to express themselves, but in a way that can give meaning and understanding to what they say,” Singleton said.

Singleton pointed out the irony of protesting during the national anthem while facing the flag that many associate with the United States military. “If you kneel during the anthem, you’re getting into freedom of expression that is protected by the Constitution, but that Constitution also protects our liberties that soldiers have fought and died for to preserve.”

Singleton said none of his players has expressed a desire to protest, but that if one did, “I wouldn’t push the button either way, but we would talk about it. I respect those making a statement, but we have to stay on course with understanding what that statement means.”

Sachem North coach Dave Falco said he discouraged his players from protesting during the anthem while pointing out that NFL players are professionals who play on a national stage.

“There are injustices in the world,” Falco said, “but we don’t think the football field or during the national anthem is the proper venue for protests. We’ve had players and coaches in our program who were in the military. Some of them have died. We’ve made it clear we don’t want to disrespect those people. But if our players feel a strong need to protest a social injustice, we would help them find the right venue.”

If a Sachem North player decided to take a knee during the anthem, or publicly protest some other way, Falco said, “It would be handled internally. We would treat it as a violation of team rules. The discipline could be anything from a reprimand to a suspension for a quarter, a half, a game, depending on the nature of the protest.”

Matt McLees, executive director of football for Nassau County, said Sunday’s NFL protests “brought the issue to more people’s attention.” He said he expects to meet soon with coaches and administrators to discuss the possibility of protests.

“We want to be respectful of everyone’s feelings and rights,” said McLees, who said he is the father of a West Point graduate and U.S. Army Ranger. “But at the same time arrive at a common ground to show support for those beliefs yet maintain the kind of atmosphere in the locker room that a football program can generate. This is new to all of us. We need to have conversations that don’t cause divisiveness.”

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