I must begin by telling you that I did not grow up in football country. My high school had a basketball team that did pretty well, and if memory serves me correctly there was baseball too. But football was not on the menu at Mater Christi High School in Astoria, N.Y. This is likely why I am such a football late-comer. I have watched Saints games religiously on television for about three years now and actually know enough to develop informed opinions on players, strategies and plays.
Most recently – last Thursday – I attended for a brief period the game between Vandebilt Catholic High and Ellender Memorial. And while, as mentioned, my stay was brief, I am a better person for having gone, on so many levels.
My reason for attending had little to do with football and everything to do with a culture war.
On two prior occasions, once at South Lafourche and again at an Ellender home game, players from Ellender chose to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem. This issue of football players and proper homage to the U.S. flag is one that’s gone on for a while, certainly in terms of the National Football League. It was pretty much forgotten until the President of the United States injected himself into it this season, which made for more talk. This past weekend we saw the Vice President traveling to a football game at taxpayer expense and leaving early because he was upset by the fully-expected protest of some players, making the whole thing a very expensive gesture, maybe a quarter million dollars worth.
Here in Terrebonne and Lafourche it is all something taken very personally, that a high school player might protest in this way. Some people say they want to see suspension and expulsion and anything else that might evince that the majority will see its will done no matter what. Fortunately between the mad mobs and the solitary protester we have the United States Constitution, which is quite clear in its meaning, which has been interpreted by sitting justices of the U.S. Supreme Court as the law of the land. So yes, technically you might be able to bench or fire a pro football player for expressing himself – though you would have a legal fight on your hands for sure – but as for the high school student, the law is quite clear.
I got to the stadium at about 20 minutes before game time, at that delicious time of the evening when day creeps out from under the coming night and the lights on the field seem to get brighter, and there are players bursting out from beneath a big terrier mascot. On the Ellender side of the field these cheerleaders were cheering their little hearts out, I mean they were seriously working it. They had precision and pride and their parents were in the stands, just like the parents of the band members. Now about the band, not enough can be said. These youngsters stood and sat through this game, following the directions of their conductors, playing with such talent and in great unison. The same held true of course on the Vandebilt side, and upon realizing that these scenarios take place at fields all over these parishes and all over Louisiana during football season, I began to understand the beauty of the football religion, because it is not just about football. The entire game was an exercise in expression, the cheers with their glitter and the bands with their songs, and the devout during the prayer – it is a Catholic high school so that’s okay – and now, yes the player on the knees during the anthem. It was a carnival of expression. It was America. It was what it should be. We are that very much free. We are that very much brave.