‘We’re teammates’: RCTC players protest again

October 2, 2018

A season-long protest against social injustice came home Saturday, as six members of the Rochester Community and Technical College football team knelt during the National Anthem before Saturday’s homecoming game.

RCTC was playing its third of four regular-season home games. The Yellowjackets (1-4) collected their first win, defeating Vermilion 40-24.

As the national anthem was performed prior to the game, six uniformed Yellowjackets were kneeling at the front of the long line of RCTC players while facing the American flag.

“We had guys who wanted to kneel in the front, the guys who didn’t want to were in the back, still supporting each other,” RCTC defensive lineman Darius Smith said. “I love my team.”

Smith, from Eagan, was one of the six players to kneel, along with Bernard Charles, Jr. of Rochester, Rudolph Gbieor of Andover, Mason Ferguson of St. Paul, Timothy Tongyiek of Brooklyn Park and KaJuan Barksdale, Jr. of Milwaukee.

“The thought process behind that is we came together, we put a plan together,” Smith said. “Just come together and to support each other.”

The players followed the example of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games back in 2016, also protesting racial injustice. Kaepernick left the 49ers as a free agent following the 2016 season and has yet to sign with another NFL team.

RCTC Coach Derrick Hintz said the players were not violating any of his rules for the team in conducting their protest.

“I’m not going to tell them they can’t do it, because it’s illegal (for me to do so),” he said. “It’s that simple, I can’t do it.”

Smith said the RCTC players who have decided on the peaceful protest are doing so to have a say in their corner of the world, even if it is unpopular in some circles.

“We’re just standing up for social injustice, overall,” he said. “We’re not just athletes, we’re role models in the community. We have a voice, too. So we just wanted to play a role in it and go outside our comfort zone.”

Cazz Martin, a sophomore running back, said he supports his teammates’ right to protest.

“I’m behind them,” he said. “Anybody, if you kneel, you stand, we’re teammates. As long as we come together on the field, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Martin said he doesn’t think the protests are dividing the team.

Hintz is in his 16th season coaching at RCTC and in his second stint as the Yellowjackets’ head coach. He says the players have the right to freedom of expression.

“They have the right, it’s the First Amendment,” Hintz said. “They have their right and I have mine; I can’t stifle their right. It’s a peaceful protest, the college supports that. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

RCTC will play its final home game of the season at 2 p.m. Saturday against Mesabi Range at Rochester Regional Stadium.

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