BLUFFTON — Freedom of speech. It goes beyond the words on a printed page or something you say to someone else. It’s a cornerstone of our constitution.
We’ve seen it when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem on Aug. 26, 2016, to protest social injustice and police brutality.
Lately, sports leagues have collectively shown their support to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Bluffton, two seniors on the Bluffton High School football team kneeled during the National Anthem.
One of them was Malachi Pahl, a 17-year-old senior.
He first took a knee at the Sept. 4 home game against Allen East.
“There’s way more stuff going on in the country than we even know about and it seems like discrimination, like, you don’t want to see that happen to people of color. You don’t want to see that happen to immigrants. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. So, I’m just trying to take a stand for people of color that can’t,” said Pahl.
Pahl kneeled in support of the only Black player on the Bluffton High School football team, Zavier O’Neil, who also took a knee. O’Neil was injured but was on the sidelines in his jersey.
“I had to do something for him because he was planning on kneeling and he was able to stand with us during the National Anthem so I was going to kneel for him. Being able to do it for him meant a lot to me,” he said.
Pahl posted a photo of himself kneeling on his Instagram account, and it’s received mixed reactions.
“There’s a lot of Trump supporters that think I’m doing this because of the Trump and Biden political stuff, and I don’t really care. I’m just doing it for Black Lives Matter. I can’t really stand to a flag that doesn’t show respect to everybody. It shows respect to the white privilege,” Pahl said.
Other than the scorn of social media, Pahl did not receive any punishment.
“We play the National Anthem so people will stand for it but there’s no repercussion towards the athletes from us,” said Alex Hanna, Bluffton High School athletic director. “There’s case law that prevents us from doing stuff like that. We don’t necessarily agree with his form of protest but we’re trying to help him find his way.”
On Friday night, the Bluffton Pirates traveled to Ada High School and Pahl and O’Neil (who was back from injury) did kneel during the National Anthem for a second consecutive Friday.
During the game, Pahl had to leave during an injury.
“One fan in the stadium took a picture of me and said, ‘Imagine being the one who kneeled at the flag to get injured in the game’ and I was like, I don’t know why you do that. That just seems really low to say that but it’s whatever, you know,” Pahl said.
The NFL on Thursday night saw players from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans lock arms for a moment of silence to support racial equality, something Pahl was excited to see.
“I thought that was really cool, seeing everybody come together,” Pahl said.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.