KITTERY, Maine (NECN) — When nine members of the Traip Academy girls soccer team took a knee during the national anthem Monday night, they hoped to start a conversation. What they didn't expect was that conversation to turn into cyberbullying.
"The backlash is what's concerning for me as a parent — the things being said on social media by her peers," said Mary Gibbons Stevens.
It was her daughter, Beti Stevens, who organized the peaceful protest.
Her mother said the protest was modeled after NFL players who have taken a knee during the Star Spangled Banner to call attention to racial injustice. As one of the only students of color at Traip Academy, Mary Stevens said her daughter feels passionately about educating her peers, and calling attention to these issues.
The "Take A Knee" protest was started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The protest gained momentum last weekend, when President Donald Trump stated players like Kaepernick should be fired. Across the NFL, more players started to take a knee during the anthem to show solidarity.
"Kneeling during the national anthem is no disrespect to veterans and the military, it is just a silent protest saying that in our country, racism is a problem," said Mary Stevens.
But after the girls' photo appeared in a local newspaper, posts started circulating on social media. Mary had several screen shots from SnapChat saved to her phone, with posts containing the team's photo with misogynistic and racial slurs.
"Students know that if they believe they are the victims of bullying — either in person or virtually — they report it to any of our three schools," said Kittery Superintendent Eric Waddell. “Our administrators respond and investigate in accordance with the policy."
Waddell said he believes the students who took a knee did so respectfully.
"The beauty of yesterday's protest is that it affords our school and community the opportunity to continue to discuss a national issue in the context of our own lives right here in Kittery, Maine," said Waddell.
With the backdrop of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, these anthem protests have a strong reaction in a military community like Kittery.
"It's very upsetting," said Ed Alberts, who thinks everyone should stand for the anthem "out of respect for the American people, the flag, and the people that died" for it.
But others support the students' method of protest.
"That's our first amendment right," said Tom Scontras. "Freedom of speech is what this country was founded upon."