Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has invited a group of black men who knelt during the national anthem before their high school football games in Michigan to be his guests for Tuesday night’s primary debate in Detroit, his campaign said.

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Four Lansing Catholic High School students, inspired by former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the national anthem in 2017 to protest police brutality and the over-policing of people of color, O’Rourke’s campaign wrote in a press release. The school disciplined the students, all starters on the school’s football team, giving them less playing time, it added.

Michael Lynn II, Matthew Abudullah and RoJe Williams, and their families will attend the debate, the campaign said. The fourth player, Kabbalah Richards, is unable to attend the debate because he’s away at college, The Associated Press reports.


O’Rourke, who has spoken out in defense of NFL players who have taken a knee during the anthem, became aware of the players’ situation when one of their families contributed to his 2018 Senate campaign. He told the AP that they have “served their community in one of the most American ways possible.”

O’Rourke will also host Rick Speck of the ACLU of Michigan, Mario Bueno — who co-founded a nonprofit aimed at helping incarcerated or formally incarcerated men improve their lives — and the mother of Sgt. Daniel R. Keegan, who died in 2016 after serving two tours in Afghanistan, the campaign said.

The former Texas congressman will join nine other 2020 Democrats for the second round of primary debates on Tuesday night.