NJ high school football teams’ players take a knee at opener
Players from the Eastside Ghosts of Paterson and the Passaic Indians took a knee during the national anthem before their shared season opener on Friday night.
Before the season started, the New Jersey Football Coaches Association and the New Jersey Football Officials Association said that teams will be permitted peaceful protests, like taking a knee, during games this season without penalty.
Members of the Eastside Ghosts football team from Paterson took a knee and held their helmets in the air during their season opener on Friday night with the Passaic Indians, according to NJ.com's game coverage.
Eastside captain Jonathan Gonzalez led the protest by kneeling several feet in front of the rest of the team, according to NJ.com, which also reported the coaching staff wore black sweatshirts with Black Lives Matter written on the front.
Players and coaches voted unanimously to take a knee all season after hearing from social worker and counselor William Raheem Smallwood, according to a statement from the district.
"Before you take a position to speak out against social injustice, police brutality, or anything else that you’re feeling in your heart, you have to understand why you are taking that position,” the statement says Smallwood told the players, who were grouped together on one knee in the middle of the team's Bauerle Field at the team's last practice of the season.
Defensive tackle Arthur Evans, a junior, said he had not decided whether to take a knee until he heard Smallwood speak, according to the statement.
“His talk actually had me thinking about what goes on in the world,” Evans is quoted saying.
The statement further quotes players saying they were grateful for the support of superintendent Eileen Shafer, who joined the team for Smallwood's address.
“Her being a part of Eastside’s community, everything that we built this year, everything that we’re going to keep building after this year, she came out here and told us that she was behind us and that meant a lot to everybody here," freshman Malachi Bethea said.
NJ.com reported that the Passaic players also took a knee on the opposite side of the field on Friday.
Bergen Catholic sophomore DJ Samuels was the lone member of his team to take a knee during his team’s opener on Saturday, NorthJersey.com reported.
Coach Vito Campanile told NorthJersey.com he was fine with Samuels' position even though they have different views.
Prior to their game with Paterson Catholic Don Bosco prep school players linked arms, according to NorthJersey.com.