It was the knees that were taken during the national anthem that overshadowed the ones taken by Bishop McGann-Mercy quarterback Ryan Razzano to end the game.
Rather than stand, some members of the Wyandanch football team chose to take knees on their sideline while the national anthem played before Saturday’s Suffolk County Division IV game at Harold T. Murray Memorial Field in Riverhead. Mercy won its homecoming game, 16-0, on a day when it celebrated its 50th anniversary of varsity football with several members of the original Mercy team taking part in the coin toss and a halftime ceremony.
Tony Bossone, a member of the chain gang crew whose son Anthony plays for Mercy, took exception to what he saw from some Wyandanch players during the national anthem.
“When we all stood and took our hats off, they kneeled, like four or five of them,” he said. “I think it’s disrespectful, especially in someone else’s stadium, someone else’s house.”
Wyandanch coach Dwight Singleton, who is also the school’s athletic director, yelled at his players to stand up for the national anthem. Some complied, others didn’t.
All the Mercy players stood.
It may be the first time such a demonstration has been seen in a Suffolk high school sporting event since the kneeling controversy erupted with professional baseball and football players kneeling in protest during national anthems, causing a national debate.
After the game, Singleton told the Riverhead News-Review that it was the first time some of his players had kneeled down for the national anthem, but he didn’t read much into those actions. “There’s no hard-line position,” he said. “I just think it’s kids being kids.”
Singleton suggested those players may simply be imitating what they see some of their favorite pro athletes doing.
Singleton said he preferred that his players stand. “I made it clear the same liberties that protect our freedom of speech are the same liberties that people have made sacrifices” for, he said. “That’s my personal view.”
Mercy coach Jeff Doroski said he didn’t notice the Wyandanch players kneeling. “I concentrate on my guys and I don’t have any opinion really on what happens with another team,” he said. “That’s another program. I’m concerned about my guys, and we stand and are respectful for the anthem. We try to keep politics out of high school sports and I concentrate on my guys and what we’re doing here.”
The actions of the Wyandanch players came after a recent directive from the Diocese of Rockville Centre reminding its three high schools, including Mercy, of its policy that all student-athletes and spectators are expected to stand for the national anthem at all school events.
After the game, Mercy athletic director Melissa Edwards was asked for her reaction to what she saw. “I’m not commenting on the other team,” she said. “I will comment on our guys. Our guys all stood up. You know, that’s what they’re expected to do, and they did the right thing.”
Asked if he was surprised to see a national issue that pro sports has been wrestling with seep down to the high school level, Doroski answered: “Nothing surprises me in this day and age. There’s a lot of things with the media. All these kids are around technology all the time, they see a lot of things, so obviously there’s an influence that comes from some of that.”
Singleton said he had never discussed the issue with his players and wouldn’t press the matter. “You just never know how these things have a trickling affect,” he said. “I can’t really make an example with the NFL players because they’re grown men. I think our young men are trying to find some meaning to it and I’m sure their meanings are different … I want our young people to be engaged in a way that they can be civil, they can be their own person, and we encourage that.”
Tony Bossone said he was a bit taken aback by what he saw, but he has seen 8-year-olds doing the same thing on TV. “You see it in the news, throughout the country kids are doing it, so I guess it’s not that big of a surprise,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but not that big of a surprise.”
Photo caption: Wyandanch players take a breather during a timeout in Saturday’s game at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School. Some Wyandanch players kneeled down during the playing of the national anthem. (Credit: Bob Liepa)
Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 10 p.m.