NAPLES, Fla. – The principal of Lely High School delivered a stern message to students on Monday about his expectations during the playing of the national anthem at school sporting events.
“Let me be crystal clear: When that anthem is being played you are to stand and you are to be quiet,” Principal Ryan Nemeth said during the school’s morning announcement show.
He gave the message hours before the school’s football team played at home.
“What you do during that time is your own business,” he said. “If you want to sing a song in your head, if you want to meditate — I really don’t care. What I do care is that you stand and stay quiet.”
Nemeth’s orders to students sounded similar to criticism thrown at San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The NFL athlete continues to protest the mistreatment of black citizens in the United States by kneeling at the start of games. He also continues to be barraged with commentary about how his protests are ill-timed, inappropriate and divisive.
During ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” commentator and former quarterback Trent Dilfer said Kaepernick’s silent protest was disruptive.
“No matter how passionate you are, no matter how much of a burden you have for a social issue, you don’t let it get in the way of the team. And the big thing that hit me through all this is, this is a backup QB whose job is to be quiet and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play,” he said.
Some students said they supported their principal’s new mandate as a way to show respect to those who serve in the military.
“I thought that he did the right thing, to be honest, because the whole Colin Kaepernick thing. I thought that it was the right thing to do — address it because a lot of people do die for our nation,” Michael Lopez, a Lely wrestler said.
But other students said the principal shouldn’t encroach on their freedom of speech. Caleb Gerald, a Lely basketball player, said he doesn’t agree but will follow Nemeth’s rule.
“I feel like people should have the right to express how they feel if they want to follow the protest or whatever, but if that’s how they want to do it then I can abide by that,” he said.
High school students have mimicked Kaepernick’s protests in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Texas, according to various reports. Most of the demonstrations have been at football games.
Lely students were told if they do not obey, they will be sent home from football games without a refund. Collier County school district officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
It is unclear whether Nemeth’s message violated any ethical or professional standards. A Lee County ROTC instructor has been suspended following accusations that he “imposed his personal religious beliefs and views” on students. That instructor maintains that he had good intentions.