HOUSTON, Texas – Two players on the Victory & Praise Christian Academy’s varsity football team will be sitting out the rest of the season after they defied their coach’s request not to protest during the national anthem.
Cedric Ingram-Lewis and his cousin Larry McCullough sent a message at Friday’s game against Providence Classical, with Lewis raising his fist and McCullough kneeling during the national anthem. They didn’t make it until kick-off before they were dismissed from the team by head coach Ronnie Mitchem, a former U.S. Marine and pastor who started the football program six years ago, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Both Lewis, a sophomore, and McCullough, a senior, acknowledged that McCullough made it clear in the locker room before the game that any protest would have consequences.
Immediately after the stunt, they learned exactly what the consequences are.
“He told us that disrespect will not be tolerated,” Lewis said of his coach’s comments following their protest. “He told us to take off our uniform and leave it there.”
“He had me and CJ strip down – our uniform, pads, the pants and all – in front of everyone,” McCullough told Reuters.
The episode comes as dozens of NFL players have protested by kneeling or sitting during the national anthem, a movement that started last year with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who allegedly refused to stand to raise awareness about racial injustice.
President Trump recently reignited the controversy when he suggested NFL team owners should fire players who disrespect the country and military veterans with the protests, and called on fans to boycott teams that refuse to stand.
McCullough defended the decision to dismiss the players, who are both black, in an interview with The Washington Post.
“As a veteran I have a strong view of what I feel is disrespectful,” he said, adding that players were warned against national anthem protests at practice on Thursday.
“If you do that, your career as a Shark is over,” McCullough told students.
The coach said he doesn’t have an issue with the players protesting injustice, but doesn’t believe that the pre-game national anthem is the time or place.
“If they feel strongly about that, that’s something that should be addressed,” he said. “But my whole point was, there was a proper time – and I told the team this – there’s a proper time to do something, and a proper way.”
McCullough insisted to KPRC he “wasn’t trying to disrespect the flag.
“It was really about showing the injustice for black people, all the stuff that’s going on in the NFL, stuff like that, so I feel I need to be part of it, too,” he said.
Mitchem told the Chronicle he believes kneeling during the national anthem disrespects the many brave Americans who fought for freedom, and offered students several other ways to protest, including kneeling after a touchdown or writing about racial injustice.
“That was my point of view,” he said. “Like I said, I’m a former Marine. That just doesn’t fly and they know that. I don’t have any problem with those young men. We’ve had a good relationship. They chose to do that and they had to pay for the consequences.”
Lewis’ mother, Rhonda Brady, isn’t too happy that her son was kicked off the team for his shenanigans.
“I’m definitely going to have a conversation because I don’t like the way that that was handled,” she said. “But I don’t want them back on the team. A man with integrity and morals and ethics and who truly lives by that wouldn’t have done anything like that.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Brady said. “So, for him to do what he did, that really spoke volumes and I don’t want my kids or my nephew to be around a man with no integrity.”
She also likened Mitchem to a “slavemaster.”
“He has like a slave-master mentality,” Brady told the Post. “If you would go back to that, when they wanted to tell us, ‘This is what you’re going to do and this is how you’re going to do it,’ and if we didn’t comply, we were beaten, whooped, or even killed.”
Regardless, Mitchem isn’t the only high school coach taking issue with players mimicking their NFL role models.
According to the Post:
While professional teams have grudgingly embraced their players’ right to free speech, college and high school athletic programs have been less comfortable with the collision between sports and protests.
Last week, the College of the Ozarks, a Christian college in Branson, Mo., announced that none of its athletic teams will play against competitors who do not stand for the anthem. The principal of a high school in Bossier City, La., recently sent a letter home to students announcing that any player protesting during the anthem would lose playing time.