Philly runner tries to show athletic protest can be more than just an NFL phenomenon

Listen 0:00

Kevin Peter stands boldly in his progressive principles. He once sent back his Eagle Scout badge because he disagreed with the Boys Scouts’ 2012 decision to keep its ban on openly-gay scouts and adult leaders in place. (The organization later lifted the ban, first for scouts and later adult leaders.)

Then last summer, he left work to join Black Lives Matter marchers on Broad Street as one of the few white participants.

So, for Peter, who is a recreational marathoner and veteran triathlete, taking a knee during the national anthem before Sunday’s WXPN 5K run was a no-brainer.

“I think it’s important for white people to make a visible statement here. Because in America, the killing of unarmed African-Americans by most white police officers who mostly do not suffer serious repercussions, that’s an American crisis,” Peter said during an interview the day before the race at his Mt. Airy home.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Peter admitted that taking a stand by kneeling made him a little apprehensive.

“It’s scary because no one else is doing it,” he said. “Going down on a knee makes one a target for bad words or worse. Going down on a knee can look trite, like you’re trying to get attention for attention’s sake. By taking a knee, I’m really putting myself out there.”

Amid the national debate over NFL players taking a knee or raising a fist during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racial injustice, Peter wanted to show his fellow runners it’s not just a pro-football phenomenon.

Race day unfolded cool and crisp. As racers stepped up to the starting line at Penn Park, Peter was ready to put himself on the line in his own way.

“Feeling good, feeling committed,” he said. “Looking forward to seeing other people’s reactions.”

But things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Peter stood at the front of the line. But when singer Lauren Hart began singing the anthem, the runners turned their backs away from Peter to face the loudspeakers, essentially putting him in back of the field.

He got up and quickly moved to the middle of the pack. That’s where he took a knee.

Nobody reacted.

Runners tied their shoes, adjusted their ear buds, took that last pre-race selfie — doing what runners do before the starting gun. But in progressive-leaning Philadelphia, Peter was neither praised nor shunned.

“I didn’t even notice it,” said runner Michael Luce. “He was standing right next to me.”

Luce says he has no problem with the NFL players’ silent protests against police brutality. But personally? He’s indifferent.

“You know, it doesn’t affect me, so I don’t feel any need to protest,” he said.

It wasn’t the reaction Peter hoped to elicit, but he says he didn’t do it for onlookers.

“It felt good to me,” he said. “I felt strong in doing what I was doing and ultimately, I’m doing this to make a statement for me. If other people see it and acknowledge it, that’s great.”

Peter said he plans to take a knee in future races and hopes his fellow competitors will do the same.

“We need to take this beyond the NFL,” he said. “Everyday people need to make a statement.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal