Three times this season, Sean Hansen took a knee on the sideline and raised his fist during the playing of the national anthem before a Trans Valley Youth Football League game.
Not anymore. He can still kneel out the “Star-Spangled Banner” – while wearing his red No. 7 49ers jersey – but only from the stands and not on the field. League president John Nixon last week banned Hansen, 40 and the parent of a Patterson Ravens player, from being on the field due to his protests.
Hansen, who served as an air traffic controller in the U.S. Air Force, is a strong supporter of former Turlock resident Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback who refuses to stand for the anthem to protest police brutality and particularly police shootings of African-Americans. Hansen claims he was tased by cops when he experienced a mental health episode in 2009 in what became a misdemeanor case.
“I went and got the help I needed,” he said.
Hansen said that during a 2014 incident in Ceres, he was cuffed, hauled to jail and then released six hours later with no charges filed.
“I wanted to show solidarity with (Kaepernick) and that I have his back,” Hansen said.
Consequently, Hansen believes the league is violating his First Amendment right to protest peacefully. Nixon maintains the league is well within its rights to prohibit anyone on the field acting in an official position – Hansen’s volunteer duty to make sure every player played the minimum 10 plays made him one – from conduct it deems unprofessional.
“We told the Ravens’ organization, which he is a part of, we did not want him on the field any longer,” Nixon said. “He’s more than welcome to attend the games and sit in the stands.”
Juan Perez, who heads the Ravens’ organization, said he and the group take no sides in the debate.
There is no constitutional amendment that mandates either having or prohibiting an opinion on Kaepernick and his anti-stand stance when it comes to the national anthem. But its pretty clear he’s generated a national social debate. Many who might detest the messenger or his message begrudgingly acknowledge his right to state his case. Others, including a growing number of military veterans and NFL players, support his right to make his point.
The ripple effect ranges from the White House, where President Barack Obama defended him for “exercising his constitutional right” to peaceful protest, to castigation in social media and by many fans in NFL stadiums, to criticism from law enforcement, to colleges and high schools where athletes are kneeling as well, and even an Oakland high school’s honor band that played the anthem from its collective knees. And now, the debate is bleeding over into youth due, locally at least, to Hansen’s protest and banishment.
He accuses the league of being selective in its prosecution, claiming nothing was done when coaches from an opposing JV team refused to shake hands with the Patterson coaches after a JV game.
“First I’ve heard of that,” Nixon said. “That’s not something we’d encourage. When the game ends, they meet at midfield and shake hands.”
Or that the Gustine youth league team continues to use the name “Redskins” when high schools throughout the state have been told to stop using the term deemed derogatory by Native Americans. Or that some of the league’s coaches, he said, berate the referees but aren’t banned for being unprofessional.
While the league can be questioned for banning him, Hansen also brought politics into games played by 6- to 14-year-olds. That is what Nixon and the league want to prevent. They want to allow the players and the cheer squads to enjoy participating without undue political and parental pressures.
“We chose not to grant him the ability to be on the field,” Nixon said. “If the CEO of Doctors Medical Center wants to be on the sideline, we wouldn’t give him access. We give out badges to be on the sidelines, and that goes for the media. Part of it is to protect the kids. We’re a private organization. We very much control who has access to the kids. We do background checks. We don’t let felons get involved. We’re going to protect these kids as much as possible.”
Hansen said his feelings haven’t changed. He supports Kaepernick in the peaceful crusade against injustice. He is disappointed that the league banned him from his field duties.
He can still kneel during the anthem. He’ll just have to do so from the bleachers.