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Seventeen-year-old Garrison Pennington is a hard-core San Francisco 49ers fan and a self-identified patriot. So his current feelings about his team’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who recently decided to stop standing during the pre-game national anthem, are… complicated.
“So I actually found out from my dad, who came from the football perspective of, ‘What is he doing? I don’t want to see that happening. This is football. This isn’t politics stay out of it,’” Garrison said. “And when my dad talked to me about it at first, I completely agreed with him.”
Garrison says he’s the kind of guy who always stands for the flag. But then he noticed how Kaepernick’s actions were making people actually talk about important topics. Like racism. And what it means to be patriotic.
“You have to have someone who’s willing to stand up, or in this case, sit down, to bring attention to those issues.”
“I think I would stand. But if it gets worse…. I don’t know.” — Gabrielle Manion, 13”
Just a few miles away at Synergy School San Francisco’s Mission District, eighth grade history teacher Dominic Altieri is also talking about Kaepernick’s actions. But in terms of the Bill of Rights.
“This is tailor made for a middle school topic,” Altieri says.
For today’s discussion, Altieri splits his class up into groups with different assignments. Gabrielle Manion, Kaia Levy-Kanenaga and Tomi Osawa are talking and researching the reasons people are mad about Kaepernick sitting out.
“It’s good to like, put your hand over your heart and stand up but I don’t get why do you have to do that at a National Football Game?” Gabrielle says.
“Like it makes sense at the Olympics but we’re all in America when we play football,” Kaia adds.
“And also a lot of people are made because they say he’s disrespecting the military because they’re fighting for freedom of speech,” Tomi says.
“I’m really mixed right now,” Kaia says. “It doesn’t make sense but it was a good point. Like what he was saying was good.”
Of the three students, only Gabrielle is black. And if she were in Kaepernick’s shoes?
“I think I would stand,” she says after a pause, “but if it gets worse…. I don’t know.”
I get why Gabrielle is conflicted. I’m black, and growing up, my mom always made sure I knew the history of black people in America. She made me watch documentaries about slavery, civil rights, police brutality, you get the picture. I’m 15 now. And up to this point, I never really thought about the connection between racism and the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance that much. Is it really that big of a deal?
It is to Amanda Agustin. She’s 17 and says she often stands for the flag, only because people get mad when she doesn’t. But she won’t put her hand on her heart, or sing or recite the pledge.
“Because I don’t believe it’s true,” Amanda says. “I believe if I were to say I pledge my allegiance to a country that has liberty and justice for all, I would be lying.”
Though that doesn’t mean that she’s giving up on her country.
“I do believe it should be love it or fix it,” she says. “If the country is not doing for you as it should, that doesn’t mean you abandon it, that’s not patriotic to me. It’s fix it.”
Back in the classroom, the 8th graders are wrapping up their lesson. As they head to lunch, their conversations keep going… about patriotism, racism, and police violence.
These kids might seem kind of young for such a heavy conversation, but Altieri says, given the world we live in, it’s necessary.
“There’s a sadness that we still have to deal with this, but there’s no sadness in someone waking up or someone realizing things are not as they should be,” he says.
The 49ers first regular season game is Monday. And with lots of young people watching, Kaepernick says he plans to sit again for the national anthem.