The South Jersey towns of Gibbstown and Paulsboro are in upheaval after two youth football coaches were suspended because they kneeled with their players during the national anthem.
The and 8- and 9-year-old Gibbstown Falcons — a combination of players from predominantly white Gibbstown and predominantly black Paulsboro — were set to take the field Sunday, Oct. 4. when one of the Falcons players said he wanted to kneel.
Gibbstown coach Rashad Thomas told the boy he’d kneel as well, but also made clear to the rest of the team that they did not have to kneel just because he was. By the time the anthem began, the entire team, save three coaches, was kneeling.
Thomas’ decision to kneel drew jeers from the stands, where some of the Gibbstown parents began to tell their children to get up and began yelling profanities. One mother told the coaches they would be fired, while another walked down to the sideline and pulled her son up by the pads.
Within hours of the game, four board members voted to suspend the entire Falcons coaching staff, asserting that the coaches ordered the boys to kneel.
Since the game, the coaches’ suspensions have been lifted after a statewide outcry, while two of the board members have been suspended for using profanities. Meanwhile, coaches from across the program may resign and a number of parents have threatened to pull their kids, alleging the board’s actions were racist.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the towns of Gibbstown, which is primarily white, and Paulsboro, which is primarily black, have been at odds since merging their youth football teams due to dwindling numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The two towns usually have their own separate teams.
Paulsboro parents reported feeling left out by the Gibbstown community, noting that the Paulsboro cheerleaders were excluded from Gibbstown’s squad when the leagues merged.
“It’s been ‘us and them’ for the entire time. It’s never been a ‘we,’ ” said assistant coach Carl Revels, a Paulsboro coach of 13 years who helped plan the towns' Black Lives Matter march this summer.
For his part, Thomas says his team will stay in the league. At 4-1, the Falcons are set to compete for the championship. Thomas said that after three weeks of deliberating with parents, he has decided not to resign.
“We are going to stay, win it all, and make it known that Paulsboro is not going anywhere,” he said Thursday.