TIME

THE PERILOUS FIGHT

FROM NFL STADIUMS TO HIGH SCHOOL SIDELINES, ATHLETES ARE PROTESTING DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM—AND FUELING A DEBATE ABOUT HOW AMERICA DEFINES PATRIOTISM
From left, Miami Dolphins Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills kneel during the national anthem in Seattle on Sept. 11

EIGHT DAYS AFTER SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS QUARTERBACK COLIN KAEPERNICK dropped to his knee as the national anthem was played before a Sept. 1 NFL preseason game in San Diego, Preston Brown gathered the Woodrow Wilson High School football team on their practice field nearly 3,000 miles away in Camden, N.J. Like his young, mostly African-American players, Brown grew up in the ailing city outside Philadelphia, and its bleak statistics—52% of kids below the poverty line, a college-graduation rate under 9%—left a lasting mark. “Come and experience some of the things these kids have to go through,” says Brown. “We’re hurting, we’re in pain. We see injustices.”

So on Sept. 9, one day before Woodrow Wilson’s first game of the season, the coach stood on the field and announced that he planned to follow Kaepernick’s lead and kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. The players were welcome, but not required, to join him. All but two did.

They were far from alone. In the weeks since Kaepernick began his protest, athletes across the country have taken a knee, locked arms or raised a fist during the anthem. The movement has spread from NFL Sundays to college-football Saturdays to the Friday-night lights of high school games and even trickled down into the peewee ranks, where a youth team in Texas decided they, too, needed to take a stand by kneeling.

By the third week of the NFL season, the protests had been echoed on volleyball courts in West Virginia, football fields in Nebraska and at a baseball stadium in Oakland, Calif., where a school band knelt during its performance of the anthem before the A’s played the Houston Astros. And on Sept. 15, the movement reached the international stage when Megan Rapinoe, an openly gay member of the U.S. women’s soccer team, kneeled

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