Debate over pre-game protests heats up as area schools wrestle w - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Debate over pre-game protests heats up as area schools wrestle with how to react

Source: WAFB Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB Source: WAFB

Starting with the NFL, growing criticism over athletes kneeling before or during the National Anthem has sparked major backlash from some, including President Donald Trump, who call it disrespectful to the flag.

The fiery debate is now gaining steam in the Bayou State. This week, a north Louisiana principal sent out a letter warning parents that any student athlete who chooses to protest could be punished. Majorie Esman with the ACLU of Louisiana fired back Thursday, slamming any punishment for a peaceful protest as unconstitutional.

“People have the right to difference of opinions, including to disrespect or disagree with the government or things that happen within the government. That is what the United States is about,” said Esman.

LSU running back Derrius Guice took to Twitter Thursday, calling possible punishments for protests ridiculous. A fan later tweeted back saying they would "burn everything purple and gold if LSU goes there.”

Guice responded with “Burn everything now then" and he followed up by saying he never said he would take a knee, but says people are so against it without understanding why some people choose to protest.

9News asked LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron about the string of tweets at a news conference late Thursday afternoon. He says he had not seen the social media exchange and that the team tries to stay out of politics. “I’m not aware of anything, but let me say this. We live in a great country. Our focus is on Troy and that’s where I’m going to leave it,” said Orgeron.

At the Episcopal vs. Capitol game Thursday, a few fans remained in their seats during the anthem, while a couple of players held their fists in the air, but there was no organized protest.

Longtime coach for Capitol, Roman Bates Jr., says those on the field are American citizens before they are student-athletes and they have a right to free speech without fear. “You got a right to express yourself in America,” said Bates.

Most of the action is on the field, but a lot of the attention recently has been on what happens on the sidelines. As more area schools hit the gridiron Friday night, the debate over what is right and what is wrong will likely continue.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association released a statement earlier in the week, saying the decision on how school's should react to or member school’s school district.

9News asked the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s position on the matter and a spokesman released a statement.

In accordance with past practices, East Baton Rouge Parish Schools will continue to allow individual school leadership to manage and make decisions regarding sporting events and related programs.

Esman though says when it comes to the constitution, there is no grey area and public schools do not trump 1st Amendment rights.

“The Supreme Court has been very clear about this, so it is the obligation of the school to not only teach their students what the law really is, but also to uphold the law,” Esman added.

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