When the Beaumont Bulls, a youth football team in eastern Texas, decided to take a knee at a Sept. 10 game, the response was swift — and vicious.
Hate mail poured in from people who were outraged that the all-black team and its coaches had refused to rise during the national anthem. Some people called the 11- and 12-year-old players racial slurs and even threatened to have them lynched and burned.
In the face of all that, the Beaumont Bulls executive board stood behind them. So did the Bay Area Football League, which the team is part of.
“There are scenarios occurring in society that until this point in time, we have not had to address,” the president said at the time. “We support the Beaumont Bulls.”
Within a week, however, on the eve of the next game, things began to unravel. Tensions erupted between coaches, parents and league officials. Shortly after, players began to drop out.
Now, a little more than a month after the team’s protest, the league has canceled the team’s remaining games, as KBMT reported Tuesday. The reasons behind the decision are in dispute. The league’s athletic director said the season was cut short because too many players left. The head coach, however, has suggested that it all stemmed from the protest.
It’s the latest controversy to rattle an athletic club in the weeks since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during a preseason game in protest of racial injustice and fatal police shootings in the U.S. Athletes from professional teams all the way down to the junior level have joined him, igniting provincial battles over whether it’s offensive or improper for players to mimic his display.
The Beaumont Bulls’ decision to kneel during the anthem was not the work of just a couple wayward players. After mulling Kaepernick’s protest in September, the team’s players and coaches agreed that they would all take a knee at the Sept. 10 game, according to Bleacher Report, which spoke to the team.
But before they did, they asked for permission from the league and the Beaumont Bulls executive board.
They got it.
When the hateful messages and death threats came in, team and league leaders backed them.
“It is our hope and desire to cultivate young men that will be leaders in our communities that will make a difference in this world,” the Beaumont Bulls executive board said in a statement a couple of days after the game. “And though their stance was not seen by all as a sign of progress, we believe that it was and we will continue to support them.”
As the following game approached, the team discussed whether they would continue. Most of them took a knee, while five others stood by with locked arms, according to Bleacher Report.
It was around that time that things spiraled out of control. Parents, coaches and officials clashed at meetings where they discussed how to deal with the threatening messages. Details are murky and conflicting, but head coach Rah-Rah Barber told Bleacher Report that he was suspended because he had allowed parents to speak to the media and players to continue to protest.
Parents followed him out, and took their players with them, he said. By Oct. 1, the team had just 15 players left, down from two dozen, KBMT reported. Within days, not enough players remained to meet the league minimum and the season was nixed, according to KBMT.
League and team officials, however, said it had nothing to do with the protest.
“We are an African-American board,” league athletic director DeCarlos Anderson told KBMT. “Our membership is diverse. It’s not a race thing.”
Anderson said Barber, the Bulls’ head coach, was suspended because he pushed two assistant coaches out when they said they didn’t want to continue with the protest.
“The athletic director is the only one who has the authority to remove an assistant or head coach,” Anderson said. “He tried to remove an assistant coach and child from his team because he didn’t have the same beliefs that he had.”
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Barber fired back, saying the board “reprimanded” them for protesting and that many parents and players on the team quit in solidarity. At least one coach resigned with them, according to Bleacher Report.
“Until the coach is reinstated they decided not to attend practice or games in an attempt to make the board pay for their actions,” Barber said, adding, “I have accepted the outcome and moved on.”
Barber and league officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.