The recent protests against the National Anthem are more than just about taking a knee, but they are another symptom of the growing division we are experiencing in America in regards to race. It seems like we have gone backward instead of forward in the progress of race relations. The protests have even extended to high school football games. Hosts Jeff Eckart & Jayson Brewer speak with a high school football coach, Steve Anderson, who has witnessed racism first hand against his players. Is it possible that we are in the early stages of healing from all this? Is God taking us through all this pain right now to bring us through into a time of healing? Are we able to recognize what God is doing through all the noise of division?
“Not that I didn’t know that there was racism and I knew that there’s racism, we see it all the time. But to actually see it live is way more eye-opening than seeing it on TV and hearing racist rants under an umbrella of the ref and I’m just gonna throw my authority around.”
Today’s episode is an interview with Steve Anderson, who is a high school football coach at Romulus High School, which is about 80-85% black. Steve graduated from Romulus High School in 1987. He is served in the local church and campus ministry for about 17 years. He has since relocated his family back after about 20 years in the West Michigan area, and now he invests in the community of Romulus, a city on the east side of the state of Michigan.
Steve in the last few weeks you’ve had some students express their personal beliefs during the national anthem like we’re seeing across the country. You’ve had some behind-the-scenes conversations with them before and after so tell us about what’s happened in those conversations.
“This week talking to a couple of guys especially after Sunday [NFL National Anthem Protests]. I asked these guys what’s your step two because obviously step one for all the kneeling is you want to be heard and now you have someone’s ear, what are you going to do with it? And what’s cool is that the guys reached out to a Romulus Police Department officer that comes to the school every other day, to have him come and talk to the guys and to start the conversation, which is what I would hope the rest of the country would want to do instead of just saying “we just want to kneel” where there is really no conversation after that. So these kids are actually leading the way and taking it to the next step by having conversations with the police.
Have you asked them what their reason behind kneeling?
“I did and actually their response was ‘how can we honor a country that doesn’t respond or allows things to happen to us, especially with the police brutality?’ They’re protesting against the police violence and seeing police get away with doing stuff to young black men. They see it, they hear about it.”
I know those students told you what they were going to do ahead of time so just talk us through.
“One young man came up to me and asked me my thoughts on him doing it, and my first question to him was why. If you want to do it because of Colin Kaepernick did it and some other players did it, then don’t do it just for the sake of doing it because you’re a young black man and you think you have to do it. So I asked him ‘why are you doing it?’ and his response to me was how can I pay respects to a country or pledge allegiance to a flag, to show my respect to a society that shows me no remorse or no justice when we get beat down or when we get shot and killed. Nothing happens to white America and then we’re told ‘if you don’t like it, leave the country’ so I had to back him 100%”
Talk about what you saw during the game.
“We played a game against one of our biggest rivals that was our third game and I knew they were going to kneel. Two of them actually. The players line up on the goal line shoulder to shoulder, which these two young men did, they all take off their helmets, which these two guys did also. As soon as the national anthem comes on, they knelt. As soon as the national anthem was done, they stood up and put their helmets right back on like everyone else. So it was literally a one-minute thing. These are two smaller guys so they’re next to big linemen and you can’t really see them unless you’re really looking for them. So all this happens during the game where the head referee, his son is a serviceman overseas, saw the young men doing this. Now, that is not why the young men did it but the ref saw them. We didn’t know this ref’s song served in the military and come to find out about halfway through the second quarter, one of the players came up to me and told me that the ref was harassing him, intimidating him, saying ‘I can’t believe that you would disrespect our country, you disrespect my son, you disrespect everyone that has fought for your right to do that, and how dare you. The player told me at least 15 times the referee made a derogatory comment to him about his stance on kneeling and actually would seem to throw a couple flags against him during the first half that were questionable calls. When the player brought it to me, I brought it to the attention of the head coach who then at halftime went to the referee and discussed it. The ref’s mood escalated quickly, went from zero to a hundred in about 2 seconds and actually questioned us why we would allow our players to do that. He made the comment ‘I’ll get him during track season because he was also an official during track season. And for the first time live I saw what these young men deal with. This referee, a white fifty-year-old male was intimidating a young black teenager and our players were shaken up by it. They just felt like they had no voice, no say. They’re told that in America we have freedoms, we can do whatever we want, that people died for the rights to do this and when they choose to use those rights, they’re told not to use those rights because of the men we are disrespecting. It was just a very confusing time for these kids.
Last year we played a school called Garden City which is just a little north and west of [Romulus]. They’re kind of like what Romulus used to be, a mostly white school. Football is a fiesty sport and every time there was a scuffle or a pushing match, this referee went to our guy every time and threw the flag on our guy, whether he started it or if we were the second man, it didn’t matter. The ref went after our guys every time. And the first few times I didn’t realize it but then I started watching them and sure enough, every time he went after our guy. I didn’t realize it was the same guy we had two weeks ago going after our kids again. Not that I didn’t know that there was racism and I knew that there’s racism, we see it all the time. But to actually see it live is way more eye-opening than seeing it on TV and hearing racist rants under an umbrella of the ref and I’m just gonna throw my authority around.”
What would you say to youth workers about this particular issue?
“We have to be open to both sides. So many times we just want our point to be heard and we’re so quick to say, ‘yeah, I understand you BUT.’ Instead really listening to the person and really looking at it from their point of view and not tear people down because we don’t agree with their opinions or their facts that they’re bringing us. I think we’re too quick to dismiss, especially students because we say ‘well, they’re just kids so their opinions are not valid because they really haven’t lived through anything. We really have to be careful because they are human beings and they have valid points. Be open to listening to them and look at things through their lenses.”
It appears that we are witnessing events that seem to increase in frequency:
Black Lives Matter (July 13, 2014) & the death of Treyvon Martin
Ferguson’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” allegation (Aug 9, 2014)
Colin Kaepernick’s Protest of the National Anthem (Aug 2016)
Charlottesville Monument Protests (Aug 12, 2017)
NFL National Anthem Protests (Sept 24/25, 2017)
We asked students what was the most important problem facing America?
A. Wealth Inequality // 10.6%
B. Race Relations // 23.5%
C. Abortion // 10%
D. Sexual Identity/Orientation // 22.3%
E. Terrorism // 35.6%
Twenty-three percent overall said race relations, with the southern region at 40% – 16% higher.
About 1 out of 4 throughout the US. Two out of five in the South.
We all sense the atmosphere changing, the tension building, but is there more going on than meets the eye?
Jeff discussed the parallel between the physical healing in Mark 9:14-29 and how it can apply to the cultural healing that needs to take place today.
In Mark 9, Jesus had healed this boy, but many people thought that he had killed him. When others saw death, Jesus brought life. But the healing process was intense. Any healing is. Healing brings with it a threshold that we must go through to get to the other side.
We don’t need our own human perspective, we need the perspective of God. And the human perspective in this scenario with Jesus was that the boy was dead, he looked like a corpse. But upon waiting, he had to go through the healing process, to look dead, before fully coming alive.
When it comes to race, when looking at it from God’s perspective, the healing process has begun. No doubt there is pain, anguish, frustration, and division, where it seems like we’ve gone backward. It looks like death on the surface. But is it possible that we are in the early stage of the healing process? Is God taking us through all this pain right now to bring us through this painful threshold into a time of healing? A lot of these events are erupting because there is something under the surface that has not healed properly and reconciliation and has to happen. God is saying “it’s not dead, I’m bringing it back to life” even if it looks worse off now.
Are we in the process of racial healing and we don’t know or recognize it?
We must bring hope to students in this area. We must take the advice of Scripture: “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Don’t assume, don’t use social media either as a way to speak or learn as the primary way to understand. Talk to people. Help your students be quick to listen, slow to speak. If they see something they disagree with, help them stop, think and ask why.
© 2017, Never The Same