When Rodney Axson, a 16-year-old football player for Brunswick High School in Ohio, showed up to play in a game on Sept. 2, he didn’t plan on kneeling during the national anthem like Colin Kaepernick did prior to a preseason game against the Chargers just one day earlier. But according to Axson, who is black, he heard several of his white teammates using the N-word before the game while talking about African-American players on the opposing team. And after confronting them about it, he decided to take a knee during The Star-Spangled Banner to protest the racial issues in his own community.
In doing so, Axson became the first high school football player in the nation to take a knee during the national anthem before a game. But unfortunately, he also became a target for many of his own teammates, who were upset with his pregame gesture. Axson claims he’s been called the N-word by many of his teammates, both in person and through text messages, since that night. And he says that, a few days after the game, someone posted a Snapchat story that featured a piece of paper with the N-word written on it next to the phrases "F*ck Rodney" and "Lets Lynch N*ggers." Axson posted a photo of the evidence on Twitter:
It has Axson’s parents wondering whether or not they made the right decision to move to Brunswick to raise their children. "I thought moving to a community like Brunswick will be safe to keep away from the gun violence," Axson’s father Rodney Sr. told Cleveland 19 News, "and then you have to come out here and deal with the racial thing."
The Brunswick City School District is now "investigating various incidents of inappropriate and racially motivated conduct by students," according to superintendent Michael Mayell. "Racial slurs and hate speech have no place in the Brunswick schools and those found complicit in such misconduct will be dealt with accordingly," Mayell said in a statement over the weekend. "This is a statement I have never even conceived that I might need to release. I am saddened to have to do so."
While the school investigates what happened to Axson, officials have temporarily decided to play the national anthem without any players on the field. It’s the same strategy that was employed by the NWSL’s Washington Spirit last week after Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign revealed that she planned to continue to take a knee during the national anthem in support of Kaepernick.