Protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem was initially started by former San Francisco 49ers player Collin Kaepernick in 2016. The form of protest has since been practiced throughout professional, college and even high school athletics. Most recently, the NFL has faced harsh criticism for players kneeling.
Last month, at a rally in Alabama, President Trump said that he wished protesting players would be fired for disrespecting the flag and American veterans. The president expressed his distaste for the form of protest by saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired. You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
This is a stark contrast to former President Obama’s statement made shortly after Kaepernick initially knelt: “I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.”
Since Trump’s remarks, more players have begun to participate in kneeling, and more fans have begun to either support them or criticize them. Those who disagree with the kneeing have made threats to boycott the NFL, burn their jerseys and end all support for teams they once loved.
The main argument made against those kneeling is the disrespect towards veterans which kneeling supposedly expresses. Kneeling is exactly the sort of thing veterans have spent their lives making sure we have the right to do. Kneeling is a form of protest which is very much protected by the First Amendment.
As Americans, one of the greatest privileges of our democracy our first amendment rights, including freedom of speech. We are able to demonstrate our beliefs and opinions without the fear of prosecution. However, it seems that many people have forgotten this.
Professional athletes are collectively using their platforms to make an important statement. Kneeling during the anthem has sparked conversation across the country about their reasoning, which is exactly the outcome which needed to happen. Because of the boldness of these athletes, Americans have been discussing the implications of racial tension, oppression, and police brutality, even if in a roundabout way. Consider the conversation that surrounds arguing over kneeling. The players who are taking a knee to express what they believe in have created discourse about the racial injustice for which they are protesting.
So, to those calling protesting NFL players “un-American”, burning their NFL apparel, and screaming for those demonstrating to be fired, think about this: the same right which is allowing them to all of the sudden become the most defensive, patriotic Americans ever, is also protecting allowing those to take a knee for what they believe in. Ironic, isn’t it?