MIDDLETOWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — On Friday night, two New Jersey high school football teams participated in a tribute to law enforcement before their game.

The event followed protests from African-American athletes who have refused to stand for the national anthem.

As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, the ACLU also weighed in on the event.

There were fast-moving plays, and hard-hitting tackles, and yet — one of the most powerful moments on the football field was before the first whistle.

Players from rival teams Middletown South and Toms River North held the American flag in a tribute to our nation and law enforcement.

“We are all joined as a community and honoring those who fight for us,” Jack Flynn said.

Players and fans recognized the controversy on some sidelines this season. In a protest against oppression of minorities, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand during the national anthem. Other professional and high school athletes have joined.

“It’s your right as an American to kneel,” one fan said.

“It’s appalling. They can show their cause in a different way,” Ron Chesek countered.

The debate over kneeling was just part of what fueled Middletown’s deputy police chief to organize the ceremony.

“I respect his right to do that, but I also think our country is the best country in the world — and the freedoms we all enjoy here — we should choose another form of protest and stand up for the national anthem,” Dollinger said.

The New Jersey ACLU reacted on Friday night saying, “People should be free to express their own opinions about the national anthem and what it stands for.”

The police department said the ceremony was less about taking a stand against those who kneel and more about honoring those who protect and serve. With thousands on hand for the game, they figured this was a great place to do it.

“It’s a very difficult time to do this job. More than you know in my 22 years,” Middletown Police Detective Lt. Paul Bailey said.

On Friday, whether they wore a football jersey or badge, the support for those in uniform was overwhelming.

The Linden police officers who helped capture bombing suspect Ahmad Rahami were among those recognized on Friday.