Although then-sophomore setter Lucas Raagas did not play on the court when the men’s volleyball team traveled to Quincy to face Eastern Nazarene College on Feb. 8 last year, what he remembers the most was when a group of fans yelled at him after he kneeled during the national anthem at the beginning of the game.
This year, teammate Max Weltz joined Raagas in the peaceful yet highly controversial protest of taking a knee, following the actions of former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick. In 2016, Kaepernick caused an uproar when he knelt down during the anthem in an NFL game to protest racial injustice and oppression in the U.S.
Raagas said he kneels before every game because he wants better treatment and representation for oppressed people.
“I just think that we as a country can be doing a lot better in terms of serving all of our people, whether it be immigrants, people that just got out of prison, or obviously people of different races, different genders, and different sexual orientations,” Raagas said. “I don’t want to stand for a country that doesn’t stand for all those people—I hold the country that I love to a high standard.”
Raagas said his kneeling should make people think more critically about problems in the U.S. and how those problems affect people’s lives. He acknowledges that while kneeling does not prevent police brutality or unjust deportations, it starts a dialogue about why someone would kneel.
Weltz, a sophomore right setter in his first year with the team, said when he saw Raagas kneeling, he became inspired to do the same.
“When I kneel, for me, it’s the idea of not believing in what my country represents and not having faith or being proud of what my country stands for,” Weltz said. “It seems like the easiest way to express that there’s something to you that’s just not right with what’s going on in our society. I don’t feel like [it’s] that ridiculous to just have that opinion, and I don’t feel like there are many other ways more effective at portraying that opinion.”
Raagas started kneeling last year after discussing with his teammates and head coach Ben Read about his intention to kneel. Raagas said he appreciated his teammates, and especially Read for understanding what he wanted to do.
“When I talked about it with my coach, he totally respected me and totally understood why I was doing it,” Raagas said. “He personally wasn’t going to partake in it and obviously, none of my teammates were, but he listened to me which was probably what I appreciate the most—he asked why I was doing it, and he absorbed it and accepted it.”
Read said he stands by his players and emphasized how their actions could start conversations about the country’s history.
“I support them, and if this is something they strongly believe in, we’ll support them for it,” Read said. “I’d encourage people to go ahead and talk to them about why they’re doing it, and I think it will create great conversations about a variety of different things—mainly race and injustice.”
Weltz said he believes the coverage of Kaepernick’s kneel overshadowed the conversation about injustice and oppression that Kaepernick tried to start. Weltz said it is crucial to remind people about the message that Kaepernick tried to send because not a lot has changed since then.
“I don’t feel like since [Kaepernick] brought it up to the forefront, anything’s actually changed in our society,” Weltz said. “I think it’s important that people are reminded when they see two kids kneeling that you just need to know there are people who are advocating for change.”
Patricia Nicol, Emerson’s Director of Athletics, said students can freely express themselves if done appropriately.
“I feel that students have every right to express their positions, as long as it is done a respectful manner, and not imposing their will on anyone else,” Nicol said. “Their actions are really what we stand for here at Emerson, and that’s the ability to express themselves in a respectful and professional manner. If one is uncomfortable with that, then they have a choice to either stay in the environment or not. But I think we all have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Raagas said he wants people to understand and respect his decision to kneel during the national anthem.
“I don’t care if you agree with me, I don’t care if you are in staunch disagreement, but all that I ask is that you respect me, you understand why I’m doing it, and you think about it,” Raagas said. “We’re all people, and we’re all Americans regardless of your citizenship status, or your criminal record, or your race, or your gender. Everyone should experience the same country, experience the same benefits, because we have so much to offer the world. We have so much to offer each other, but that wealth isn’t spread enough as it should be.”
Managing Editor Monika Davis did not edit this story due to a conflict of interest.