The Bulldogs opened the Metro League season against West Seattle at Southwest Athletic Complex.

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Garfield’s football players know about the third verse.

The stanza omitted from Francis Scott Key’s famed “Star Spangled Banner” that mocks black men for aligning with the British during the War of 1812 in hopes of freedom from American slavery.

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave; from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” wrote Key, a slave owner himself.

Stunned at the revelation and frustrated by their own experiences in modern-day America, the Bulldogs decided they wouldn’t stand for it anymore. The Garfield football team knelt in unison during the playing of the national anthem before its 52-9 Metro League win against West Seattle on Friday.

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The Bulldogs were joined by some players on the Wildcats sideline. West Seattle’s players began kneeling last week after getting approval from its administration.

“Everybody wants to talk about how this is disrespectful to the American flag,” Garfield coach Joey Thomas said. “That’s a smokescreen. How about we talk about the issues people are kneeling and fighting for? If we could start addressing the issues and finding solutions to the issues, we won’t have to kneel.”

Thomas said Friday’s action at the Southwest Athletic Complex is a continuation of a philosophy taught in his program. The issues are also personal and not just solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first stopped standing for the national anthem at an exhibition game in August in order to shed light on the oppression of black people and people of color in America.

Garfield is a racially divided school. Thomas said multiple players on his team have either dealt with police brutality or racial profiling. There’s a belief black men are misrepresented by news outlets.

Thomas teaches a college and career readiness class at Garfield called Project Mister. It’s another safe space where he discusses social injustices. He declined to have his players talk publicly in order to protect their identity.

“You have to talk with kids about the social injustices that are going on because they’re dealing with it regardless,” Thomas said. “Let’s just talk about it. How are you killing these African American males on camera and we can’t even get a day in court…are you kidding me? When is enough, enough? But if you look at history, nothing changes in history until you’re willing to sacrifice.”

West Seattle coach Tom Burggraff hasn’t knelt with his players but supports their freedom to protest. For those Wildcats who do kneel, Burggraff helped form a letter detailing their reasons.

Burggraff declined to share the contents of the letter.

“Ultimately you have the right to do what you think is best,” he said.