Pros help youth football team regroup
Almost 10 months after it was torn apart by condemnation and controversy, the youth football team formerly known as the Beaumont Bulls has received support and funding from a group of NFL players, an endorsement that team officials says validates the decision to kneel in protest during the national anthem last season.
A group of NFL players, including Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and Houston Texans offensive lineman Duane Brown, donated $20,000 last month to a new team led by former Bulls coach Rah Rah Barber.
The donation covered the cost of equipment such as helmets, shoulder pads and a hydration station for the Southeast Texas Oilers’ inaugural season, which starts Sept. 2.
“Getting a donation like this helped not only in the fact we will have everything we need for our kids to play,” Barber said. “It’s also validation that players who our kids look up to supported what we were trying to do.”
Jenkins and Brown took part in pregame protests last season as well, each raising a fist in the air during the anthem at points in the season.
“We wanted to make sure that we sent those kids the message that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe
in,” Jenkins told ESPN in a story published earlier this week. “We didn’t want them to walk away from the season feeling punished for trying to do the right thing.
“We wanted to make sure that was rewarded and acknowledged and encouraged, so that was our main motivation for helping.”
Barber called the months since the Bulls began their protest last September “bittersweet” and that he “had no idea” the protest would receive so much media attention.
The team of 11- and 12-year-olds protested in support of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the polarizing trend of kneeling during the national anthem because of the the treatment of minorities in America.
Response to the players’ action was fervent and mixed.
Some, like Bulls parent April Parkerson, “believed the kids were doing the right thing.” Others disagreed.
Dennis Velek, a fan of an opposing team from Alvin, said last September the players’ protest was “disrespectful.”
The team met Jenkins and other NFL players in Houston during Super Bowl week in February at a RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) event.
Barber, who was removed as the Bulls’ coach three weeks before their season was cut short, said the meeting gave the team a chance to tell its story. He believed it resonated with the NFL players.
The team has kept in contact with the players since the event, culminating in the donation.
The Oilers will be playing in the Texas Youth Football Association - the largest youth football organization in Texas - this season and will have eight regular-season games, including four at home.
Barber said the Oilers, who are closing in on 150 total players between 4 and 13, won’t kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” this season.
The team won’t play the national anthem at all because of the normally unsung third verse, which references slavery.
The Oilers instead will play songs like “God Bless America,” Barber said.
“There still isn’t equal freedom for everyone in this country,” Parkerson said. “So the team, including my son, is going to keep protesting.”
The Oilers first practice is July 10 and the equipment is supposed to start arriving today, according to Parkerson.
“The donation made it easier for me and the other coaches to show our kids what they’re doing isn’t wrong,” Barber said.