HS football players kneel for anthem. So referees fire back with their own protest: ‘Pisses me off’

HS football players kneel for anthem. So referees fire back with their own protest: ‘Pisses me off’
Two New Jersey high school football referees walked off the field in protest at a game Friday night after several players from the home team took a knee during the national anthem. (Image source: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

Two New Jersey high school football referees walked off the field in protest at a game Friday night after three players from the home team took a knee during the national anthem — and one of the refs made his feelings very clear afterward, saying the anthem protest movement “pisses me off.”

What happened?

  • About three players from Monroe High School in Middlesex County took a knee during the national anthem before their game against visiting Colts Neck.
  • Two officials — Ernie Lunardelli, 54, and his son, Anthony Lunardelli, 27 — stood for the anthem but then left the field after seeing the players taking a knee, NJ.com reported.
  • Their spots on the five-person crew were filled by junior cadet officials at the game, Ernie Lunardelli added to the outlet.
  • Colts Neck went on to defeat Monroe, 18-13.

What did referee Ernie Lunardelli have to say afterward?

  • “I’m not in favor of anyone disrespecting our country, our flag, the armed forces,” he told the outlet. “What they’re protesting has nothing to do with the national anthem, and I’m against it, so I decided to protest for them kneeling …”
  • Lunardelli added to NJ.com that he told Thomas Paulikas — the officials assigner for the Greater Middlesex Conference — that he would walk off the field if any players took a knee for the anthem at games he officiated.
  • “Whoever is disrespecting that flag and the national anthem, that’s who I have a problem with,” Lunardelli added to the outlet. “That’s my protest. I don’t care if it’s a baby, if it’s an 80-year-old man, anybody. I don’t care. Any race, color, I don’t care who it is. It’s not the way I was brought up, and it pisses me off that people are doing that.”
  • “What hurts the most is these kids don’t even know why they’re kneeling,” he also told NJ.com. “I just don’t understand why this is happening, especially at the high school level. If you’re not happy with being in America, go somewhere else. It’s that simple.”
  • Lunardelli also told NJ.com that the game they departed Friday night shouldn’t count because the cadet referees didn’t have proper certification or training — and that he and his son were unassigned from working Saturday’s game between Spotswood and Raritan.
  • “I have a lawyer already set up because they’re not going to run me out of town,” Lunardeli added to the outlet. “They’re going to try to blackball me. I know what’s going to happen.”

What did the other referee, Anthony Lunardelli, have to say?

  • He told MyCentralJersey.com that Monroe school officials informed him they plan to file a complaint with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
  • “They are trying to get them to not give us any more games, basically saying we put the players’ safety in danger, but we didn’t,” Anthony Lunardelli added to the outlet. “They obviously had enough officials to do the game. I’m not really worried about [being sanctioned]. If I don’t ref again, it won’t be the end of the world.”

The visiting Colts Neck coach has a different story. What did he say?

  • Colts Neck coach Darien Barnes told NJ.com in a separate story that before the Lunardellis departed the game in protest, Ernie Lunardelli turned to the Monroe players and shouted in their direction and that “the other official had to pull [Lunardelli] off the field.”
  • “To me, he’s a coward,” Barnes added to the outlet. “You don’t stand there and scream at a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds who are just expressing their rights the same as he was expressing his. He’s a grown man. After you tell the other adults what you are going to do, you don’t turn around and scream at kids. That’s what needs to be addressed.”
  • Barnes, 37, played seven seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NJ.com. He’s black and is married to white woman, and the couple has three mixed-race children, the outlet added.
  • “He has as much right to walk out as the kids have to kneel,” Barnes added to NJ.com. “It wasn’t difficult to watch those kids kneel, and it wasn’t difficult to watch him leave the game because of it. His anger was difficult. His anger, the way he yelled, the look on his face — it bothered the hell out of me. I don’t know if it’s a microcosm of what is going on around this country, but he just shouldn’t have been that angry at those kids over it. It’s his right to be angry, but the way he went about it, it’s kind of sickening.”

How did Ernie Lunardelli react to Barnes’ accusations?

  • He told the outlet he didn’t yell at any players and that he only stopped on his way off the field after a Monroe coach yelled at him.
  • “One of the coaches said something, and it kind of irked me and I just turned around and I was looking to see who it was,” Lunardelli told NJ.com. “Nobody pulled me; I walked off.”

There’s also a report of a racist Facebook post. What’s that all about?

  • Ernie Lunardelli told MyCentralJersey.com he denies writing “Thanks for f***ing up the country!! Back to the zoo!!!” in reply to a Jan. 21 Facebook post with a photo of Michelle and Barack Obama thanking them for their service to America.
  • “I did not write it,” he added to the outlet regarding the comment attached to his Facebook profile. “Somebody is trying to cause problems. I was hacked at one time. I don’t remember when it was. I had to change everything. I don’t remember when it was, though.”

What are higher-ups doing now?

  • Scott Heiser, chairman of the Central Jersey Chapter of the New Jersey Football Officials Association, told My CentralJersey.com he’ll conduct an emergency board of review hearing this week regarding the referees’ on-field actions — as well as the racist Facebook comment.
  • The New Jersey Statewide Athletic Association is “looking to us to investigate and flush out the facts, and we will do that,” Heiser told the outlet, adding that his organization, not the state’s governing body for scholastic sports, will determine if any sanctions should be imposed.
  • NJSIAA assistant director Jack DuBois told NJ.com that he’s been involved in high school athletics for 48 years, and “I’ve never seen or heard of an official leaving a game in any sport.”

(H/T: Blue Lives Matter)

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