This story has been modified to correct the first name of Jose Taylor.
GREAT BARRINGTON >> Quietly and with little fanfare, about 70 spectators, both black and white, took a knee at the beginning of the Monument Mountain Regional High School football game Friday night as the national anthem was played.
There were about 340 fans at the contest, which was between the home Monument Mountain Spartans and the visiting Ludlow Lions.
The protesters knelt in a group behind the grandstand.
Their action was in support of a Monument football player who was also down on one knee during the anthem. The player, whom school officials have not named, was trying to bring attention to racial injustice across the country, according to Jose Taylor of Pittsfield, one of the protesters.
"We believe the young man has the God-given right to express his opinion," said Taylor. "When it comes to high school athletics, racism should not be a part of it."
"He has the right to express himself," said Ricky Burston Sr. of Pittsfield. "No one should hinder that."
Joseph Bennett, currently the boys basketball coach at St. Joseph Central High School in Pittsfield, pointed out that the crowd of protesters was a blend of whites and African-Americans.
"It's a good mix of people," he said. "They're all in support of this young man."
"It's sad we're still combating racism in this country," said Shawn Grady of Pittsfield.
A local resident, Timothy Dargie, said he believes the issue has been misconstrued for some. Dargie is the father of two Spartan football players. He said much of the consternation on the team was because the player apparently went to Monument coach Christopher D'Aniello for permission to protest, but did not take it up with his teammates.
"A lot of these kids have been playing together since Juniors," he said, referring to Junior League football, which is a pre-high school league. "They're like a family. Some of the kids wish they had all discussed it."
The issue started a few weeks ago, on the evening of Sept. 23, as the Spartans were facing Athol High School in a football game. The player knelt on one knee during the national anthem to begin the game. Several weeks before that, San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem in a preseason NFL game for a similar reason.
Kaepernick's action has sparked a national response, including that evening a few weeks ago in Athol.
The controversy ignited locally last week, when another Monument student spoke disparagingly of the kneeling student, suggesting the football player should be "lynched." The student did not directly threaten the football player, but instead addressed another student. That student reported the remarks to school authorities.
The incident launched an investigation by both Monument Mountain Regional High School, and the Great Barrington Police Department.
The Great Barrington Police Department acknowledged that the incident was "concerning," but given that the student was not directly threatened, police declined to prosecute the individual who made the threats.
"He's here for an education, he's here for athletics," Manny Slaughter, who runs the Marilyn Hamilton Literacy Program in Pittsfield, said of the student protester. "He's a good young man from a good family."
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.