Cheerleaders kneel during anthem, stirs debate

Nine cheerleaders kneel during the national anthem, while the rest of the team and the basketball team stands

Gus Nathanson

Nine cheerleaders kneel during the national anthem, while the rest of the team and the basketball team stands

Throughout the last century, the use of peaceful protest in America to advocate social justice has been prominent. Over the past two years, this peaceful protest has appeared in the form of athletes kneeling during the national anthem before sporting events. This has sparked controversy regarding whether doing so is simply peaceful protest or disrespect. This past school year, kneeling during the national anthem emerged at the school’s sporting events.

The cheerleaders knelt during the anthem throughout the football season in the fall. Then on the night of November 28 during the Washington-Lee versus Falls Church basketball game, nine of the thirteen members of the varsity cheerleading team knelt during the playing of the anthem, indicating that their protest would continue into winter.  

“Athletes should be able to do what they want [during the anthem],” junior Max Herrmann said. “It’s wrong that some people think it’s anti-United States.”

There is no question that kneeling during the anthem is an area of controversy. Numerous athletes at the professional level have received criticism for kneeling because of the rational that it is disrespectful to the American flag. However, those same athletes also received an abundance of support.

“I think whether you agree or disagree with whoever is in office,” junior Janelle Briley said, “the flag still remains the same and we need to stand together as a whole.”

The kneeling by the school’s cheerleaders evoked similar reactions from the student body. This difference in opinion could also be found within the varsity cheerleading team itself.

“Others, like me, view the national anthem as a time to stand together as a nation,” senior cheerleader Rachel Bradley said. “Even though the country is not perfect, we stand together to fight injustice and work toward our common goals of life, liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”

Those on the cheerleading team who chose to kneel did so to express their opposition to the current government and to racial prejudice seen throughout the country. They believe doing so was an exercise of their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

“I mainly started kneeling because Donald Trump became president,” senior cheerleader Kim Harvey said. “I am honestly just tired of the way that minorities, women and lower class citizens are treated in this country. I am also kneeling for the victims of police brutality that were never given justice.”

This blurred line between what is considered peaceful protest and what is considered disrespectful to the nation has been a divisive force throughout the many levels of sports and also politics in the United States. At Washington-Lee, a school in a district where Democratic congressman Don Beyer won his last election by a 68.4% majority according to Ballotpedia, that division is still present. This difference of opinion of members of the varsity cheerleading team is only an example of what occurs throughout the nation.

“Kneeling is a small thing I can do to show that I am not okay with how this country is going downhill and how different groups are being treated by the men and women who run this country,” Harvey said.