CROSBY, Texas - Two football players of a private high school in Crosby were thrown off the team after one knelt and another raised his fist during the national anthem.
Larry McCullough, 18, and Cedric Ingram Lewis, 16, are at the center of a debate after being kicked off the Victory and Worship Academy football team.
"Before every game, we always pray and then say the anthem. At the game, I decided to stay on my knee, rather than say the anthem," McCullough said.
The head coach at the academy, Ronnie Mitchem, said his players were not allowed to protest during the anthem because he felt was disrespectful of veterans and others, according to the Associated Press.
"I pretty much knew how he looked at us when I was holding my fist up and my cousin was kneeling," Lewis said.
He made the two players strip down, remove their uniforms on the field and dismissed them from the team.
Mitchem, a former Marine, said he doesn't oppose protesting, but not during the national anthem.
The teens told KPRC2 they removed their uniforms, as requested, but were overwhelmed by humiliation, as fans watched from the stands. Ingram-Lewis' mother witnessed it, too.
"Him standing as a Christian and a pastor that was just not right at all on any level," Rhonda Brady said
McCullough and Lewis, who are cousins, said they knelt during the anthem to bring visibility to the oppression of black people, and not to disrespect veterans.
"I wasn't trying to disrespect the flag. It was really showing the injustice for black people, all the stuff that's going on in the NFL, stuff like that, so I feel I need to be a part of it, too," McCullough said.
KPRC2 reached out to Ronnie Mitchem for comment; however, he said he was not available for immediate comment on camera.
Mitchem did refer to remarks he posted on his Facebook page. KPRC2 has included his comments in their entirety below.
Mitchem released posted the following Facebook comment:
"Thanks to all of you for your support. I want to be clear that I don't have a problem with people protesting if it is done the right way. But to disrespect the flag that gives us the right to protest is the wrong way to do it. I gave the two players other ways to protest that I felt was fair.
"I served in the U.S. Marine along side men of different colors and back grounds. My Marine drill instructors told us there was no black or white marine just marine Corp green and we would all fight for our country together. As a Christian We often times have different opinions on scripture but the one common thread to all believers is the blood of Jesus and what he did at the cross for us.
"As Americans we have one common thread and that is that men/women of all color have fought and died to give us the right to live free and to get to play football on a Friday night and all the other liberties we have. To disrespect that is not right. I love these two young men and one of them has spent the night at my house and I have taken him to football camps. He and my son are good friends. But I know and most
"Americans know and understand that if we lose that one common thread the love of country and respect for what we have then it won't be long before we lose that freedom that we have. Martin Luther King was one of the greatest men to ever live and he always had the American flag in his marches and rallies. He did not hate America he wanted America to be the greatest nation on earth and I do not believe his dream included disrespecting our great nation and those who have died for it.
"Black, white, Asian , Hispanic all have come to this great nation and many have died so I could Pastor/coach and play football on Friday night. Though many may disagree with me this is what I believe and as an American I have that right. I pray these young men across America can come to understand there is a right and wrong way to do things. God bless America"
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