A Louisiana High School Just Threatened to Bench Athletes Who Kneel During the Anthem

“The players and coaches should stand when our National Anthem is played in a show of respect.”

Woodrow Wilson High School players kneel during the national anthem before game in Camden, New Jersey, in September 2016.Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP

Less than a week after President Donald Trump railed against NFL players protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, the principal of a Louisiana high school sent a memo making it clear that student-athletes who don’t stand during the anthem would face a loss of playing time and, if they continued, removal from their team.

The directive came after Scott Smith, superintendent of the Bossier Parish School District, where Parkway High School is located, issued a statement that said students should stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” out of respect for military personnel. 

“In Bossier Parish, we believe when a student chooses to join and participate on a team, the players and coaches should stand when our National Anthem is played in a show of respect,” read Smith’s statement. “Our principals and their coaching staffs have sole discretion in determining consequences should a student athlete elect not to stand during the National Anthem and they are making their expectations known to players and their families this week. As Superintendent, my administration will be in full support of these school-based decisions.” 

The district’s announcement quickly drew criticism from civil liberties advocates, who noted that the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that it was unconstitutional for a school to require a student to stand during patriotic ceremonies like the Pledge of Allegiance. Punishments for kneeling during the anthem, they argued, likely wouldn’t hold up in court. 

The school has not yet responded to a request for comment.