Dueling Typewriters: Kneeling During the National Anthem

For: Sage Swaby ’18

When San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick sat down last fall during the national anthem, it made national news. There were fans, and others for or against his actions. Many called it extreme disrespect towards America and the history of the anthem. The major reason behind Kaepernick’s sitting (and later, kneeling) was to bring awareness to racial inequality.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag,” he explained to Steve Wyche of NFL.com. “For a country that oppresses black people, and people of color.”

His demonstration was in the wake of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

The ironic part to Kaepernick’s kneeling is that the idea came from Nate Boyer, former United States Army Green Beret and football long snapper. He penned an open letter to Kaepernick about his actions. Kaepernick contacted Boyer, asking to meet to discuss his letter. Boyer suggested Kaepernick take a knee as a sign of respect because people kneel to pray, especially in front of a fallen brother’s grave. Kaepernick believed that would be powerful, deciding from then on to kneel. These two show that if we have real conversations, we will “probably realize that we want the same things at the end of the day.”

Many argue that politics has no position in sports, however I disagree. We include politics when we sing the anthem and pledge allegiance to the flag. While Kaepernick and other athletes who have supported him have the privilege of wealth and celebrity status, this does not make them exempt from the realities of racism.

Kaepernick was bringing to light the overlooked injustices that happen to black people daily. As a black teen, I have felt the affects of racism, colorism, and microaggressions. I know the heart wrenching feeling seeing  another black man get shot on the television, thinking of how that could potentially be my dad or younger brother next. It is hard to grapple with these thoughts.  The fact that Kaepernick and others are kneeling means a lot.

I believe that everyone in this country has the right to protest anything they want, within the limits of the law. When Muhammad Ali protested the Vietnam War draft, he was met with backlash. When athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics, they were met with controversy. When people of color take action in this country, they tend to be met with hate. Bringing attention to the racism, prejudice, and more can be a touchy subject however anytime someone tries to raise their voice and share their experiences, they are shot down. President Trump saw Kaepernick and other players as “sons of b*tches” while I saw them as representatives for a movement we need to keep pushing. Kaepernick just wanted to show black lives matter and he won’t kneel for his country’s flag while they continue to ignore the harrowing problems facing people of color.

Every one of these players love and support their country and value their citizenship here. This doesn’t stop them from wanting to peacefully protest the racism and injustices happening that the country’s leaders and others are overlooking. Before and since he has sat and kneeled, Kaepernick has been working with his foundation, The Colin Kaepernick Foundation, to fight oppression of all kinds globally through education and social activism. Almost about a year ago, he pledged to donate $1 million to various organizations fighting oppression. He has kept his promise, donating money to different causes and foundations, encouraging other athletes and celebrities to take part in as well.

Colin Kaepernick didn’t kneel because he thought it would make him look good. He kneeled because he believed it was the best way to protest. All the other players and American citizens are kneeling because they want to show their power to protest and how they believe our country can move in a better direction. Kneeling isn’t a sign of disrespect for America but rather a wakeup call for the country to do better regarding race relations and forms of oppression.

Against: David Tesfaye ’18

The most important part of peaceful protest is creating a relatable message while maintaining clear objectives and exemplary moral behavior. Rosa Parks was instrumental in the Montgomery bus boycott, because she could have been anyone`s mother or sister heading home from a hard day of work only to be subjected to inhumane and unfair treatment because of the color of her skin. Rosa Parks and Blacks subjected to this treatment were the victims, the bus companies, Montgomery Alabama, and white segregationist were the villains, and finally the solution was to refrain from riding buses, driving these companies into bankruptcy if they did not amend their archaic rules. This is a clear and logical sequence of events that was executed with effective organization and resulted in improved conditions for Blacks and forwarded the equal rights movement.

When I try to analyze the current protests taking place in the NFL I don’t see a clear objective or reasoning. I cannot make the leap from incredibly wealthy football players kneeling or sitting through the national anthem, and violence especially police violence against black teens or blacks in general. The national anthem is an idealistic representation of America’s freedom and good values. America is a perfect concept that has been handled imperfectly because of misguided and sometimes evil individuals. One can love America, but hate racism because those aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sitting during the national anthem did not spark conversations about race relations or incidents of minorities being unfairly targeted, it has created an entirely separate publicity vacuum that focuses on the protests and players themselves, not what they are meant to symbolize or draw attention to. If MLK said “I’m going to march until all racism in the nation has ended”, he would not have impacted society nearly as much as he did and everyone would have wondered at why he`d choose such an impossibly broad issue to tackle. His methodology was very precise and focused with a clear solution in mind.

If every player participating in these anthem protests focused on a particular issue, invested their time and capital, and used their platforms more constructively, they could create serious change for the better. For example they could participate in and found community outreach programs targeted in areas with a high minority population. These programs could focus on the importance of education, the dangers of drugs, and many other messages that would be extremely meaningful for young people to hear from their idols, their heroes. Another idea is creating a foundation to help provide financial aid or legal assistance to victims of police brutality or racial profiling. The public defender system leaves many who cannot afford a lawyer with inexperienced and overworked lawyers that cannot provide an adequate defense leading to higher rates of conviction and harsher sentences.

There are a million different ways in which the “system” lets people, especially young minorities, down without even including police brutality and violence, but instead of focusing and targeting any of these issues the protesters choose to simply continue sitting until racism has ended. That isn’t going to happen until someone points at a specific problem and sets out to solve it.

Why are players who detest the state of affairs in the nation ignoring the fact that the organization they work for uses a racial stereotype (the Redskins) that targets the most marginalized and disenfranchised ethnic group in American History? For me this completely undermines the legitimacy of these protests. I can’t bring myself to take a nearly inept methodology as a means to addressing a complex issue like racism. It simply doesn’t seem like a serious and well constructed movement.

I want change, not distractions and fads that detract from the importance of combating racism and helping its victims.

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