Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke placed national anthem kneelers front and center during the primary debate in Detroit Tuesday.
O’Rourke invited former Lansing Catholic High School football players Michael Lynn III, Matthew Abdullah and RoJe Williams, WZZM reported. Their teammate Kabbash Richards is attending college and could not attend.
The four of them knelt during the national anthem before games in 2017, WZZM said. Their inspiration reportedly came from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The players at first were kept on the bench but their school changed course and said in 2018 that they would not be punished or lose playing time, Oregon Live reported. O’Rourke told the Associated Press that the football players “have served their community in one of the most American ways possible.”
The Lansing City Council honored the four football players in a ceremony at a meeting in December 2017, WLIX reported.
Sports Illustrated quoted Lynn as saying:
“I get they are a private school and they can do what they want. They are right, they can. But that doesn’t make it humane and that does not make it OK that they can do that because that still is my right to peaceful protest. Not only am I peaceful protesting, but I’m protesting as a primary source. I am a young black man in America. I’ve had to deal with certain things that other people will never have to deal with.
In a 2018 video by Now This, O’Rourke defended NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. The video is available here. O’Rourke mentioned the 1960s-era civil rights movement and said blacks are being killed “at a frightening level,” including by police.
The Now This video went viral with more than 44 million views at the time, The Hill said in August 2018.
Ellen DeGeneres featured O’Rourke and the video on her show in September 2018, helping him gain more attention. She said she “wanted to meet him right away” and called his answer “so eloquent” and “so beautiful.” The segment of her show is available here.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.
Photo “Beto O’Rourke” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Background Photo “Kneeling Protest” by 13 On Your Side.