“… the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” 

This week, Preston Brown, the coach at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, chose to protest conditions in Camden schools, and oppression more widely, by kneeling during the national anthem. And many of his players followed suit. 

The faux outrage has started, and it comes with a twist. Erasure. The first instinct of writer Phil Anastasia is to dismiss the contributions of high schoolers choosing to protest, telling them they are just children. In a column disguised as advice to Coach Brown, Anastasia writes: 

I wish he would have told his players — and the cheerleaders and team managers and ball boys — to stand along the sideline for the national anthem. (…)

I wish he would have told them that he is older than them and much more equipped make such an important decision. (…)

I wish he would have told them that he’s a grown man and that they are teenagers. (…)

I wish he would have told them that things are complicated, that the world is filled with all sorts of nuances and shades of gray and that they have not lived long enough to fully appreciate that. (…)

I wish he would have told them they weren’t ready to do that yet, because they are still children.

Notice how Anastasia ignores the agency of youth and hides it behind “advice” to Preston Brown. Notice how he assumes students could not be making a mature choice to protest. Notice how he erases their action by barely mentioning the reasons they chose to protest, then he erases the protest of their coach by making it about his supposed failure as a mentor (not about the issue Preston Brown or the players were trying to hard to highlight). Phil Anastasia saw a remarkable thing — a sports team taking civic action in protest of their conditions and the conditions in their country — and all he could think to do was lecture.

Photo by Yong Kim, Staff Photographer Philly.com

So let’s be thankful that it is Preston Brown coaching the Woodrow Wilson Tigers not Phil Anastasia. Because there’s nothing high schoolers enjoy more than being told their voice doesn’t matter, that they are children, and that they should be patronized. Let’s be grateful for Coach Brown, who chose to take the brunt of the criticism for the protest while also treating his players like adults and giving them the choice of kneeling or standing. Most coaches wouldn’t have that courage — they’d focus on the game and call the rest a “distraction.” They would hide behind cliches that their jobs were about “winning.” It’s easier for a coach to punt on these issues than to stand up, and it’s easier for players to stand up than to kneel. 

That’s why Camden students need more men like Coach Brown. Coach Brown stood up for what he believed in, took pressure off his players, and treated teenagers with respect. He is a true educator. Phil Anastasia acknowledged that “I haven’t walked a mile in Preston Brown’s shoes” then felt entitled enough to write a condescending advice column that ended with the words, “I wish he would have told them they weren’t ready to do that yet, because they are still children. I wish he would have told them to stand along the line during the song and then go play football.” He assumed his opinion was more important than the students’ voices, and that playing a game was more important than standing up for what you believe in. 

Shut up and play football is not the lesson we want to teach our students of color, especially when they are finding voices to advocate for their community. Telling those students they are “still children” when they take risks that could affect their future and their recruitment belittles the gravity of their decision. It actively erases their voices and their protest. These students (and their coach) took this risk for something they believed in. They dropped to their knee on principle. Our first instinct when this happens needs to be to listen, not to lecture. 

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  • Preston, I applaud you for your position and I am so proud of you, Woodrow Wilson and the City of Camden is very fortunate to have you coach and mentor their students. Continue to stand for what is right and just, the problem is, too many people fail to do anything, so they criticize you for taking a stand, don’t stop continue to do the right thing and guide those young men, it’s appreciated. You and your team and the position you took was mentioned in an article in The October 3rd issue of Time Magazine. You are a fine example of a Mothers son, an outstanding Coach who cares, an awesome father to your children and a loving husband to your spouse. Keep doing what you’re doing it makes a difference and it’s appreciated .

  • We need to teach respect to our children there’s enough bad stuff they will learn on their own, by teaching to disrespect the flag your also telling them it ok to not respect authority figures teachers, police officers and other adults. This is what’s wrong with this country! If you don’t agree with the laws of the land you may leave this country, there are other countries you may not voice your opinion. Our schools is where we teach respect. So coach you should be ashamed of yourself!
    Our country is going down hill and people like you are responsible. As an educator I know you would want your students to respect you now what if your students decide they don’t want to mind or listen to you in the class room or on the ball field. It’s their right to decide isn’t it? This is what you are teaching them. You are an adult do whatever you want to, but keep your opinions to yourself

  • I wonder if coach Brown received permission to do this from the parents of these players or from the school district and what bearing the fact that this is a publicly funded school and not a professional sports team has on this.I would think there would be at least some parents who may have served in the military,who may not have agreed with this and may protest coach Brown s action if he did not receive approval from the offended parent.

  • I agree that the players should/can protest, but I still don’t understand why it has to be during the national anthem. Instead if you don’t like the way things are going with the school, don’t play the game in protest. The national anthem is just that, national! It represents why you can protest! The reason so many men and women lost their live so you can kneel or sit or whatever. But to do it at that moment on that song is wrong.

  • Preston Brown ought to be ashamed of himself. As a youth Baseball coach, i take proud in trying to install teamwork, sportsmanship, integrity, and respect for the game-and that respect includes respecting ALL people…the fans, the coaches, the league officials, and the opponents…a coach has great influence over his players and that is to be taken very seriously…shame on this so-called coach for making such a poor choice in front of these impressionable kids. There is a time and a place for civil debate and demonstrations and it sure as bell isn’t on 9/11 during a youth sports game

  • Several comments baffle me! Those of you who made statements about they were talking about W.W. High School not Camden H.S.! You really missed the “Boat”! The young man Jaileel knows who coach Brown is and who he coaches for! W.W. Of course! But you missed the point when Jaileel “stated”! So why should’nt their voices or opinion’s matter! And that he was proud to say that Coach Brown was and is a great “coach/Mentor and that he would support him 100,000,000 times! I think that was a great comment of respect coming from someone who played on a rival team in the city, but still showed respect for his actions! And for the record! I’ve known Preston Brown for 20 plus years also and you can never say all that this man along with his brother Malik and The other Brother City as I know him have accomplished! Preston not only help orchestrat and keep his siblings together while still in H.S. But also when he was in College he helped keep his teammates together during Hurricane Katrin down in New Oleans just to start! You know his heart is for Camden and the inner city youths because he came back and got himself involved! He is there voices as well as their coach! A “Good” leader, “Always lead by example! Good job Presston Brown! Keep doing what you do “Best”! “Lead! And God Bless You!!!

    • Maybe so might be a great coach and wonderful father and awesome husband but [editor’s note: I’m editing out insults from these comments — happy to have vibrant debate, but trying to keep things civil] when it comes to common sense he doesn’t have the right to insteel his beliefs in these kids! If you want to protest then do it don’t get these kids involved it looks like he just needed attention and now he’s getting it. Things these kids do will follow them and the disrespect of the flag isn’t going to solve anything. All lives matter Mr Brown. Apparently have no respect.
      What are you protesting exactly? The singer? The song? The flag? You just want to protest! This great country gave you the right to do this.. I love my country

      • So with all due respect it’s safe to say you don’t know why they are protesting…. and if that is safe to say then it may also be safe to say you have no idea what it is like growing up in an impoverished city where there are more students than text books, people than jobs, people in need than giving people! We live in a city that fights day in and out to provide NEEDS not wants, where we battle adversity EVERY DAY just to do and have some of the things that others take for granite. W.W protest is a call of action to all to better situations all across the board. NOT to follow an athlete, or disrespect law enforcement or America, but as stated in the comments above THIS IS AMERICA where we have the privilege to stand in what we believe in. Such an action has taken more backlash than the similar protests held by the LGBT community. But for them to stand, sit, etc they are simply doing what they feel are right while Coach Brown and his young adults are being disrespectful and called all kinds of names. I’ve never understood how so many people who have never endured such treatment could have so much to say! It would be all the same for me as a man to discredit the beauty and strength a woman has and goes through to give birth. How could I ever?!

  • Phil, you’re not giving the Woodrow Wilson players enough credit for their own life experience and ability to make their own decisions.
    The students in Camden can speak from first-hand experience on social injustices and economic disparities.

  • These young people have had to make more adult decisions and have seen things that some adults will never experience. For Anastasia told just dismiss them as children shows his overall immaturity and one sided thinking.

  • Obviously taking a knee during the national anthem was not about a group of people against the military. Far from it, rather against the oppression on black and brown people across America. Poor education, lack of jobs, pipeline to prison, injustice in the judicial system, corrupt politicians, gentrification, Etc. Etc. Etc.
    Social injustices and economic disparities.
    I salute you Coach Brown on taking a stance and teaching his players the importance of expressing their inalienable rights

    • There is no leadership in following the actions of pro sports athletes. Those who follow this extremely poor showing of civil discourse are merely followers…don’t be so proud. There are many respectful, constructive ways to engage others in healthy dialogue on the supposed issue your advocating for and this is far from it

  • Phil Children in the City of Camden are not blind, they see whats going on in there hoods, and across America. Maybe you should take a look through there eyes.

  • Phil Anastasia is Racist it has to be because he is a black coach. You wrote a whole negative article about him but didn’t mention anything good or positive that he’s done and accomplished. Then you say students voices don’t matter cause they’re only teenagers clearly all around the world black teenagers are being killed. So why shouldn’t their voice or opinion matter? I am a former player/graduate from Camden High School and I’m proud to say he is a great coach/mentor and I support him 1000000%.

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