NFL players are kneeling during the national anthem—this is why it matters
In August 2016, NFL player Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, made headlines when he sat down during the national anthem in the 49ers third preseason game.
Amid the media frenzy, Kaepernick later made a statement on NFL.com, stating “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. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Over a year after Kaepernick first sat down during the national anthem, the idea is finally gaining traction within the NFL. Many high-profile players have begun to kneel during the national anthem— showing solidarity with Kaepernick, following President Trump's critiquing Kaepernick's actions. The movement has even created a storm on social media, with the hashtag #takeaknee trending on Twitter in the United States for nearly 24 straight hours on Sept. 23.
President Donald Trump recently criticized these players, posting several tweets on Sept. 25.
“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” Trump tweeted.
Trump and his supporters have argued that the protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful to those who have served in the military, while supporters of the movement have argued the protests are simply a way of peacefully expressing opinion and that players who kneel are exercising their First Amendment rights.
Dr. Ana Shippey, professor of political science at Lee, says that players should have the right to express their opinion on America’s current political climate.
“They are peacefully protesting, and it’s a good idea. … America has a lot to work on when it comes to racial relations," Shippey said. "Stating that America is a Christian nation is naive at best and deceiving ourselves at worst. Freedom of speech is a basic, fundamental freedom granted to Americans in the First Amendment, a freedom that people have died for."
In light of President Trump’s comments on Twitter, 49er safety Eric Reid wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on why he decided to kneel: “We discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless. … After hours of careful consideration…we came to the conclusion that we should kneel rather than sit the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture.”
Michael Doughtery, a columnist for the National Review, said the reason this issue is causing such an uproar lies in how many people take extreme sides in the political sphere.
"The passion of partisanship is now so great, that we seem determined to misunderstand each other. Dislike protests that take the flag or the national anthem as their object? Well, you must really only object to powerful statements of anti-racism," Doughtery writes. "Cheering on the protesting players? You must think your current partisanship transcends the importance of our country and all those who sacrificed for it. It seems as if everyone is falling into the trap set by their opponents."
Julia Laba, a freshman digital media studies major at Lee, has a unique perspective on this issue. Born in Atlanta, she moved to South Africa at 18 months old, living there until age 8, before moving back for a short time. She left again at age 12 and finally came back to America in January 2017. Growing up in both countries has broadened her mindset, allowing her a unique perspective.
“When people disagree with a social issue, people are going to protest. … My opinion is influenced by the fact that I was raised in a country that was not very nationalistic. I believe that America, as a country, has made the flag an idol. The players who do this obviously think protesting this issue is worth risking their career and their reputation. There is a problem that needs to be solved.”
Yet Brett Weinert, a freshman accounting major, feels that at the end of the day, kneeling is disrespectful to those who have served our country.
“I respect the fact that they have the right to protest, but the way they are doing it is not appropriate,” Weinert said. “People have died defending that flag. It represents more than they know.”