Respecting the flag, on one knee

By Luke Koferl,Columnist

When people think about the National Football League today, few likely think about the amazing plays or the records of the teams or who’s going to the playoffs. “Take a Knee” has taken much of the attention, and for reasons both good and bad.

If you were to ask people today why players are kneeling during the national anthem, I believe their answers would cite Trump or Jerry Jones or something other than the reasons the movement, if in fact it is a movement, started in the first place.

Colin Kaepernick, GQ Magazine’s “Citizen of the Year”
Photo by Rick Scuteri

On August 14, 2016, then San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a seat during the national anthem to protest police treatment of people of color. “People of color have been targeted by police,” Kaepernick said at the time.

Thus, he rather quietly began – or tried to begin – a conversation about how for many the United States has failed to live up to the commitments celebrated in national anthem, in particular with respect to people of color. The last line in the national anthem is, “for the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Two weeks later, Nate Boyer, then a Seattle Seahawk player and still a Green Beret veteran, reached out to Kaepernick in a letter to say he wanted to meet to talk about Kaepernick’s position.

“We came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammate,” Boyer said, of Kaepernick. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave to show respect.”

Have people mistakenly perceived Kaepernick as a villain of the NFL when in fact he is showing respect for those who have fallen? If a soldier is kneeling beside a grave, it is completely understandable, and I agree with that, but isn’t it the fact that Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem that gave his gesture the emphasis he needs to make a statement?

How am I to know what Kaepernick is going through if the only life I have lived is my privileged white life? Trump stated that NFL owners should fire those who kneel during the national anthem. Although it may seem disrespectful, I don’t believe Trump has fully grasped what Kaepernick and a growing number of NFL players are trying to say.

“Take a Knee” isn’t about disrespecting the flag, but rather respectfully pointing out the dissonance between what the flag is supposed to represent for everyone, regardless of race or creed, and the lived reality of many, many people of color, especially when it comes to interactions with law enforcement.

It is also troubling that the President urged the firing of players for simply expressing their views, something expressly permitted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Eric Reid, a teammate of Kaepernick’s, recalled his experiences kneeling: “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast, to mark a tragedy.”

This strikes me as profound respect.

The NFL can’t just sweep the “Take a Knee” concerns under the carpet. There have been a lot of controversial things that have just been pushed aside and forgotten about, but this time it isn’t going away.

What to do? Some suggest keeping the players in the locker room. Others say let them kneel in the tunnels before stepping on the field. But aren’t these merely attempts to silence voices that, to be a nation of the free and of the brave, we need to hear?

“When there is significant change and the flag represents what it is supposed to represent and this country is representing it people the way that its suppose to then I’ll stand,” said Kaepernick, who many believe has been blackballed from playing in the NFL because of his views.

It is difficult to put oneself in others’ shoes, but we have to try. I believe that if we choose to shun those who kneel, then we are a part of the problem and quite possibly on the wrong side of history.

(Quotes are from,

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