On Wednesday, the NFL officially passed a rule stating any team that has a player sit or kneel during the national anthem is subject to a fine for a “lack of respect” toward the anthem and country. The rule also allows players who wish to not participate in the anthem to remain in the locker room.
Before I begin, I would like to state that I do not believe this is a Democrat versus Republican issue we face. No matter how much one side, or one person, discusses their problem with it all, I view it as a nonpartisan topic. With that being said, it is clear that the message of kneeling or sitting during the anthem to oppose social injustice has been misconstrued since its beginnings last summer.
When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in last year’s NFL preseason, he cited injustice with how the police interact and engage with the African American community and other minority groups as his reason. He later went on to say that he would not stand again until he saw change, a promise he kept throughout the season (while sacrificing his career in the process). He even met with a former Army Green Beret, Nate Boyer (a member of the 49ers staff), to discuss the issue and find the best way to demonstrate his protest without going too far. Boyer suggested kneeling because that is what soldiers do to show respect for a fallen brother…and yet here we are.
Over the past few days, video showing Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown being aggressively thrown to the ground and tased for a parking violation occurring at 2 a.m. have surfaced, and those officers involved have been disciplined by the city’s police department. But this is not the first time any of us have seen something like this, and it’s time to be honest about that fact. We all saw the Philando Castile video. The Eric Garner video. We all know about the Michael Brown shooting. The list goes on and on and on. And for some reason, no one wants to admit there is a problem. We live in a time where excessive force by the police is a minority issue, and not something white people have to deal with. And THAT is what the protest was, has, and will ALWAYS be about.
It’s not about disrespecting the country or military. There is not a single NFL player kneeling who would tell you they do it in protest of what our military fights for. In fact, the NFL and its players dedicate a month, November, called the “Salute to Service”, where they wear gear and donate money from the proceeds of selling that gear online to our armed forces. That is not something that was just done or enacted this year, but rather something that has been going on for YEARS as a sign of appreciation to those who put their lives on the line for the freedom we all enjoy in this country. Freedoms that include the first amendment.
Now I am someone who has relatives who have served in the military. I proudly walk around in my United States Marine Corp gear and say “Semper Fi” or “Thank you for your service” to any passing Marine or fellow military member I see. It is something that was ingrained in my head by my grandfather at a young age, and something that I am proud and grateful I was taught. It’s important to salute and appreciate those who fight for our country, and there are many different ways to do it. Standing for the national anthem is not one of them.
Ask any military member without context what they fight for, and I doubt any one of them would answer “the flag”. The most common, and probably correct, answer would be our country’s freedom and safety. After all, I doubt anyone would go to a country like Afghanistan or Iraq to fight for a symbol. Black players are not disrespecting the flag by kneeling. They are purely demonstrating freedom of expression and protest, which is what this country was built on. And people who fail to see that also just blatantly ignore the issue these players are attempting to draw attention to.
The NFL taking away the players’ right and ability to protest on their platform is a blatant disregard for the freedoms our soldiers fight for. It takes away the first amendment right of the players, and trust me I’m aware of the other side of that argument. “Isn’t it the owners right to say they don’t want their players to kneel or sit?” Sure it is, but is it the NFL’s? You see with every turn the NFL makes a move to protect their wallets. They did it with Ray Rice pretending they didn’t see his gruesome video until TMZ got their hands on it and basically banished the running back forever, even though he is one of the only ones to ever show remorse and a commitment to bettering himself off the field following the incident. They did it for years with CTE and concussions, pretending like “there is as much risk sitting on the couch” (those are commissioner Roger Goodell’s words not mine). And they did it again here, when Papa John’s pulled their sponsorship from the league and when President Trump publicly denounced the protests. Goodell and all the owners then thought it was time to stick the middle finger up to the NFLPA and basically say “We’re taking away your platform and spitting on the issue you are fighting for, you don’t want to stand then stay in the locker room.”
Actors use the stage they stand on after winning an award to bring light to an important issue (such as the Me Too movement). The Hollywood Foreign Press doesn’t say boo. Bryant Gumbel does it after every one of his Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel episodes. HBO doesn’t bat an eye. Why should politicians be the only ones allowed to use their platform to “speak their truth?” I hear time and again about how politicians are corrupt and only look out for their own best interests, and then almost as if those people forgot they said that, they only allow those people to be the ones to speak on issues such as this.
Sports has a long history of this, however. Back in the 1968 Olympics, black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the national anthem as a sign of protest against lynchings in the United States. They were swiftly booed and removed from the stadium.
You see, it’s something about black athletes attempting to shine a spotlight on real issues that bothers the white people that rule this country. If the NFL really wants to be progressive and thrive in the times we live, they are going to need to be more accepting of players wanting change in the society they see as unjust in their day-to-day life. This new anthem policy takes three steps in the wrong direction and they know it. They are once again just trying to save face and protect their pockets and while continuing to be the racist, discriminatory league they have always thrived as. Having majority white billionaires decide the fate of issues like this only continues to widen the racial gap. It is a disgrace, and it’s wrong.