Courtesy of Mike McCarn
Players Colin Kaepernick (right) and Eric Reid (left) first brought attention to this issue by taking a knee on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016.

Is taking a knee during the National Anthem disrespectful?

October 2, 2017

Kneeling for Change

Sitting during the National Anthem is a form of protest that started over a year ago by former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick. When it first began, Kaepernick and other professional football players were protesting police brutality against the black community.  Since then, the act of kneeling during National Anthem evolved significantly.

Soon Kaepernick became the most hated athlete in America, all due to his protesting for equality for an entire group of people that makes up nearly 15 percent of America. In a 2016 poll of Americans’ perceptions of NFL players, 37 percent of white responders disliked him “a lot,” whereas only 2 percent of black responders answered the same.

Taking a knee during the National Anthem is about race and the struggles minorities face in America; it is not about the flag, military, or the anthem itself. The act is a large step towards a more peaceful America.

“’Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b***h off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired,’” said President Donald Trump during a rally for Republican Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala. on Sept. 22. “That’s a total disrespect to our heritage.”

When white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched the streets of Charlottesville, President Trump did not call them “sons of b****es,” he did not even condemn them immediately.

President Trump’s comments did not stop or cause a lesser amount of players to kneel; it caused a scene of unity with more NFL players kneeling than ever on Sept. 24. Black players, white players, team personnel, and team owners stood with their arms interlocked, and many kneeled in unification. Some players raised their fists to display “black power.”

And again to no one’s surprise, there was an extreme backlash from the media and people nationwide. People that criticize taking a knee during our anthem claim that this action is disrespectful to the star-spangled banner and the military.

From the perspective of an athlete that kneels during the anthem, they are not trying to disrespect our beautiful country. These athletes are directly protesting our president and the injustices that occur every day in America. They are protesting for equality for the black community, something that should already exist by kneeling and holding their hand over their heart.

The military fights to protect our freedom every day so we can live to serve our God-given right. The history of America is based upon protesting, so how is this any different?

“The brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest,” said Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers safety, in an interview with The New York Times.

Many other criticizers of kneeling during the anthem ask why kneeling before a football game and before our flag is the best platform to protest. They may say why don’t these protesters simply join a rally or protest on the streets to get their message across. In July alone, there were almost 40 different events by Black Lives Matter, but with a lack of media coverage, no one really knew about any of them.

So, why is protesting before a football game wrong? Protesting in front of millions of people is the perfect platform to get a message across. If a group of people wants change in society, why wouldn’t they share their unhappiness with millions?

Many may question why athletes are the leaders of the modern protest for equality today. With so many people looking up to them, why wouldn’t they be activists when the opportunity is right there? Kids look up to athletes, and kids are our future, if they are influenced by people that want social equality, that is perfect.

The protesters are fighting for the entire black community to live the same way and be treated the same as white people. They are not just protesting for themselves even though they seem to have everything as professional athletes.

“I have always held a strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do,” said Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks defensive end, in a Twitter post when describing how he has experienced direct injustice before. “The fact is unequivocally, without question why before every game, I sit during the National Anthem- because equality doesn’t live in this country, and no matter how much money you make, what job title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a “n****r,” you will be treated that way. The system failed me. I can only imagine what Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Charleena Lyles felt.”

This protest is more than simply kneeling during the National Anthem. Race equality exists legally, but in reality, it does not.

Kneeling during the National Anthem is much more than a protest that is seen as “disrespectful,” it is part of the fight for equality that everyone deserves no matter your race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex.

I truly hope that this movement of peacefully protesting during the National Anthem propels the idea of peace into the near future.

 

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Villanueva represents unity

On Sunday, Sept. 24, all of the Pittsburgh Steelers except for one man, Alejandro Villanueva, refused to either stand or leave the tunnel during the pre-game national anthem. Many other players across the NFL did the same as the Steelers.

To understand the significance of this form of protest, we must first understand the significance of the National Anthem itself.

Written by Francis Scott Key, the Star Spangled Banner was written aboard a British detainment ship in 1814 after witnessing the United States survival of the shelling of Fort McHenry, indicated by the American flag still waving atop the fort the next morning. The United States national anthem is a representation of the survival, determination, and unification of the American people.

Having been deployed in Afghanistan and part of a minority himself, Villanueva’s actions indicated that he saw the disconnect between the intended message and the actual message of protesting. He was compelled to honor the flag and the anthem.

The first NFL player to protest the national anthem was former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Kaepernick began this protest in reaction to what he described as unfair treatment of Black Americans by police. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick said in a Washington Post interview. 

There is clearly a major issue within our nation around racial oppression and segregation, an issue that has existed since the country’s inception. There are other injustices, too. We have a long history of divide between men and women and their rights, and that’s just one example. Even with all of our flaws, we all belong under the same flag. Though it is a constitutional right to be able to protest, why, when the national anthem is representative of a unified dream, one that men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, lived, and died for, do people feel the need to further the distance between Americans by visibly rejecting that sign of persistence and unification?

Though Kaepernick had only the best of intentions, he did not go about expressing his ideals in an effective way. Rather than calling positive attention to an issue, he started what is now further division in our nation around a whole separate issue. Today, NFL players have a new reason for protesting: Trump. The original message has been lost in a reaction to Trump’s tweets.

“To have the president trying to intimidate people — I wanted to send a message that I don’t condone that. I’m not OK with somebody trying to prevent someone from standing up for what they think is important,” said Julius Thomas of the Miami Dolphins when responding to Trump’s Twitter attacks

Thomas was one of the many professional football players throughout the nation who protested the national anthem this past weekend.

Villanueva’s jersey sales spiked within 24 hours, indicating the support among football fans for his respect and reverence towards the anthem. It’s people like Villanueva who are uniting our divided nation, resisting a hateful president, and representing what the people who founded our country stood for. Frankly, we need more people like him.

 

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