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Worcester athlete in national media spotlight after national anthem protest

Frank Holland
Worcester athlete in national media spotlight after national anthem protest
Worcester high school student Michael Oppong. (Photo: Photo: Facebook photo)

Michael Oppong’s protest under the Friday night lights has put him the national spotlight.

“There is a lot of injustice happening for black people all around and something had to be done!” Oppong said in a Banner interview.

Oppong is a quarterback and safety for the Doherty Memorial High School Varsity Football team in Worcester.

While the national anthem played during the team’s game on September, the junior knelt on one knee on the sideline as a silent protest. Oppong says he was inspired by NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has sparked a national discussion by sitting and kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of racial injustice.

While Kaepernick provoked ire among white football fans, National Football League officials said the San Francisco 49ers quarterback was within his right to protest, stating that “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”

The backlash notwithstanding, Kaepernick has become somewhat of a hero among blacks, following in the mold of Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who sparked controversy when they raised their fists while the anthem was played during the 1968 games.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this position” Oppong said of Kaepernick.

Oppong says he appreciates Kaepernick’s courage and would like to talk to him about raising awareness about social issues.

“A lot of my classmates were proud of me because, from what they said, I was very brave for what I did for standing up for what I believe in,” he said.

But over the weekend, Oppong says he was told he would be punished for the protest.

“I was called by my coach and told I’d be suspended a game, and it was the decision of my coach and my assistant principal,” Oppong said.

Oppong posted a message on Twitter about his suspension. The tweet received thousands of “likes” and retweets along with supportive messages from Black Lives Matter activists and others.

On Monday, Worcester Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda said there was a misunderstanding over players standing during the national anthem.

“There was no suspension or discipline,” Binienda said. “If a student decides not to, they can receive no discipline for that, that’s a violation of the constitutional right of a student.”

Oppong’s tweet saying he is no longer suspended also went viral. This time, even Kaepernick retweeted.

Oppong says he’s spoken to some of his teammates about continuing the protest. While the anthem played before the Monday Night Football game, Kaepernick continued to kneel. Other NFL players, including Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett of the Patriots, raised a fist during the anthem.

Oppong says seeing those protests is encouraging and he plans to continue all season long.

“Something will happen this Friday,” he said.