It was a lopsided football game. The Regents of Madison West rode Terrell Carrey’s 73-yard punt return and 105-yard interception return, as well as two touchdown catches by Terrence McNeil, to spoil the Homecoming game of crosstown rival Madison East with a 60-27.

Before the game, though, the teams were united in one cause: shining a light on the injustices facing people of color, especially African American men, in the United States.

Before the band struck up “The Star Spangled Banner,” the PA announcer read the statement that typically precedes the Pledge of Allegiance, reminding everyone that America is a country of freedom, and participation is voluntary.

All of the East players, and all but a handful of West’s, then dropped to a knee.

Football, soccer and volleyball players across the country have been opting out of the traditional standing with hand over heart during the national anthem since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to sit out the anthem during his team’s first three preseason games. After a conversation with a veteran of both the NFL and the Marines, Kaepernick agreed to take a knee instead of simply sitting.

Professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe followed suit, as did several NFL players and college athletes across the country. A few high school football teams have expressed themselves the same way, but the display Friday night appears to be the first such protest in the Madison area, and one of very few involving both teams.

Jaiden Clark
Jaiden Clark

It was an idea that’s been brewing for several weeks, said West senior defensive end and fullback Jaiden Clark.

“We never did it because we thought our coach would be mad,” Clark told Madison365. He thought the coach would be angry not because it was disrespectful to the nation, but because he’d think the players were just doing it for attention. “But then I talked to one of our coaches on the staff, an African American coach and he said he couldn’t get mad about it.”

One of Clark’s fellow seniors, a member of the UW’s PEOPLE program, reached out to a fellow PEOPLE scholar from East, and found out the Purgolders were planning on taking a knee, as well.

The entire coaching staff on the West sideline ended up being supportive.

“They were just kind of looking to do something in a positive manner, just to show that they were standing behind something,” said West Head Coach Brad Murphy. “It’s a nonviolent kind of thing. It’s a peaceful protest. The kids want to show they are going to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Our kids just want to set a good example, do things the right way in school and in the community. That’s what we’re trying to do over at West High School.

Clark said the students aren’t looking for attention or to be disruptive, nor to disrespect the military.

“We were not doing it for attention, we were doing it for a purpose,” Clark said. “We will continue to do it until we see things change. When African Americans are getting shot by cops, we want to see fair things happen to cops who committed the crime instead of them getting paid leave.”

Clark said he was especially heartened to be joined by his Caucasian teammates.

He also said he is realistic, and knows this protest won’t change things overnight. But, he said, “it’s a step forward to starting change.”