AMES, Ia. (Des Moines Register) -- More than a dozen members of the Ames High School marching band Friday became the latest Iowa students to make a statement surrounding the playing of the national anthem.
Thirteen band members linked arms and walked off the field during a performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to the Little Cyclones' home football game against Des Moines Lincoln.
Additionally, an unknown number of band members decided not to play their instruments during the anthem.
Those who walked off faced some cursing from spectators in the stands, but they decided to protest despite criticism, said sophomore Lara Murray.
Murray said she decided to walk off to highlight inequality in the United States.
"How can we be unified if there's racism, sexism and homophobia in our school?" Murray said. "I had a lot of second thoughts on it, but I thought I was going to regret it more if I didn't do something."
Originally, the students were planning on kneeling, until Ames High School principal Spence Evans told them they had to walk off the field instead, the students said.
For band member Petr Karpov, the act of walking off wasn't to disrespect the flag or members of the military, but to bring awareness to racial disparities.
"We wanted to make this a movement, not a trend," Karpov said. "It was for taking a stand against racial prejudice."
Additionally, prior to the game, the Ames student section had planned on wearing America-themed attire. However, the students said that administrators told them to choose a different theme, fueling debate between students on Twitter and at school on Friday.
It was brought to our attention that USA theme is too controversial and we are just trying to have good time. PINK OUT tomorrow. #rollclones— AHS Student Section (@AHSStudSection) October 13, 2017
The students who walked off said their protest wasn't in response to the outrage online, but that it created divisiveness at school before the game. They said they want their protest to start a conversation to try and unify people.
"It was an expression of my anger and sadness in the direction our country is heading," said band member Kira Davis. "It’s to express I stand with people who are feeling persecuted or marginalized by the current president or people in power."
Particularly since high school students can't vote, Karpov said it was a way for the students to express their opinion.
"You have to take a stand," Karpov said.
While the students aren't sure how their peers will react on Monday, they said it was important to make a symbolic statement now.
"I felt like not doing it just because there was a lot of hate and suppression would defeat the entire purpose," said junior Owen Murphy. "The idea of hate is to make people fear standing out."
Ames band director Chris Ewan declined to speak with the Register regarding the students' actions Friday night.
The debate over athletes kneeling during the national anthem has festered for weeks in the wake of comments by President Donald Trump last month suggesting that NFL players participating in similar protests should be fired.
At the center of the debate is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling last season over his view of police mistreatment of black people.
In response to Trump's comments, many NFL players and owners offered shows of solidarity on Sept. 24.
The ripples of the debate quickly spread to Iowa, and even previously to Ames. Iowa State football wide receiver and Urbandale High School product Allen Lazard was highly critical of Trump's comments before the Cyclones' game against Texas the ensuing week. The senior received the support of coach Matt Campbell.
On Sept. 27, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley offered a personal observation:
"I would rather not comment on what individuals do that they call freedom of speech. But when a knee is involved, I figure the only time that you get on your knees is to pray," said Grassley, a devout Baptist who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In eastern Iowa last week, the Clear Creek Amana football team came together to support receiver Darius Moore after a racist social media post about him kneeling before a game surfaced. The message: "kick this f------ ni---- off the football team like honestly who the f--- kneels for the national anthem"
NFL owners next week will consider changes to a game manual that says players “should” stand during the national anthem. That’s a guideline that the league has left to the discretion of players who have knelt in larger numbers after Trump’s criticism.
Owners will have their annual fall meeting in New York next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the league has invited the players’ union to take part.
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