When the Cloquet-Carlton girls soccer team took to the field for its season-opener Tuesday, Sept. 1, it wasn’t the 5-0 throttling of Esko that raised eyebrows, but the actions of three players before the game.

Seniors Mireye Moose and Katelyn Kelley and junior Ilei Benson all chose to kneel during the national anthem prior to the game to highlight social justice causes and protest police brutality and systemic racism.

“I chose to kneel yesterday because I see it as a peaceful way to show support and bring light to social justice and the inequalities people of color face,” Moose said. “We as humans should want justice and equality for all walks of people, but historically — and with recent events — that is not the case.”

All three girls said they began thinking about kneeling during the anthem after the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis Police May 25. The incident sparked nationwide protests, and Kelley said it made her want to support “Black stories.”

“Lots of people come with stories about police brutality and people have died with no justice being served," Kelley said. “So when you kneel, you’re showing that you hear these Black stories, you support these stories and you’re making them known.”

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The entire team discussed the issue of kneeling prior to the game and agreed there would be “no judgement” regarding individual players' choices on the subject, according to Benson.

“I was a little scared — I mean a lot of my teammates decided not to kneel,” Benson said. “So it was kind of intimidating to just do that in front of a big crowd for our first home game and everything. Then before the anthem started, we all took a knee, and it felt like the right thing to do.”

Benson said she hasn’t heard anything negative about their decision to kneel and several people told her mother they thought her actions were brave.

Moose, however, said she has heard rumblings of displeasure because of their stance.

“I've heard that some people felt disrespected or didn't feel that it was the time or place to be doing that — that we should be focusing on the game itself,” Moose said. “But I believe this is the time and place since I was given the opportunity to show support for people of color and their fight to have freedom and equality.”

Moose, who is Indigenous, and Benson, who was born in China and adopted, both said they have felt discrimination in stores and occasionally in school, but neither have been the victim of a violent, racist attack.

More importantly, the girls said their protest has sparked an important conversation in the community.

“It's important to acknowledge that the act of kneeling, it brought forth this opportunity to communicate in an open and free manner, which is a really good step towards change,” Moose said. “Usually, it's kind of pushed under the rug and not really talked about because it's uncomfortable for some people.”

The protest didn’t appear to affect the girls’ play either. Benson scored twice against the Eskomos and Kelley recorded a first-half assist.

The girls also knelt during their 2-1 home win Thursday, Sept. 3, against Duluth Marshall.

This story was updated at 9:26 a.m. on Sept. 4 with a photo from the Cloquet-Carlton vs. Duluth Marshall game and the outcome of that game. It was originally posted at 5:49 p.m. on Sept. 2.