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Controversy surrounding the “Take a Knee” protest movement, started by NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, has dominated the conversation around the NFL’s ongoing 2017 season. While NFL’s ratings are lower than last year due to a myriad reasons, The U.S.’s favorite sport is, as of right now, all about that moment before the game even begins, when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played.
Criticism of protests
Since the nation first noticed Kaepernick’s protests back in 2016, the ongoing series of quiet protests has gained the attention of President Trump, seemingly culminating in a statement, when he advised NFL team owners to deal with protesting players by saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired.” Trump’s administration has continued to reinforce its views of the movement, as Vice President Mike Pence recently walked out of an NFL game after seeing players protest during the anthem.
While some of Kaepernick’s critics, such as Trump, have questioned the original purpose of the protests—systemic racism toward black Americans and police brutality—others among the movement’s opposition claim they have no problem with the message, but the fact that it’s done during the anthem crosses the line. However, these critics are missing the point. Both in terms of exposure and potency, this small moment before the starting whistle is an ideal time for these athletes to make their voices heard. And as much as some don’t like to see it, advocating for black Americans to be able to live better lives exemplifies what patriotism ought to be in the first place.
A break from politics
In order to unpack that statement, let’s take a closer look at the idea that these protesting players should take their politics elsewhere. One of the biggest flaws within this argument is that it fails to recognize that our lives are inherently political. Governmental and societal constructs affect our everyday lives, our art and, yes, our sports and entertainment. Addressing these subjects within these mediums is part of what it means to be an engaged citizen. The inescapability of politics exists especially so for less privileged Americans in the U.S., such as those in racial minority groups.
Insisting we all put these things aside for a day for the comfort of the viewers is simply not a luxury many Americans can afford. For many young black students, studies have shown sports can be seen as one of their few options to be successful. Military recruitment programs have also targeted minority communities as well. These issues are not ones we can afford to “take a break” from, as they reflect the realities of many who are living in our country. There is a level of disruption required in protest, and this is as fair game as any.
Respecting the armed forces
One must also address what is perhaps the most prominent accusations of the protest—the idea that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful to our troops. This assertion relies on a number of assumptions. First, not all veterans disapprove of what Kaepernick and others are doing. Granted, just because some members of a group go against the norm, that doesn’t necessarily mean certain things aren’t disrespectful. However, the act of kneeling as opposed to sitting down during the anthem was decided upon as a way to express their personal respect for those in the military, while still maintaining protest.
Taking the stance that those who don’t follow normal protocol around the flag and anthem don’t respect the military makes flawed assumptions about to whom those symbols belong. As symbols of our country, they are not owned by the institution of the military, but rather, by the people. Just as members of the armed forces and their loves ones use the flag as a reminder of their sacrifice, these players can use this opportunity to address the injustices we see every day at home. Doing so doesn’t make them any less American than those who stand and put their hands over their hearts.
Kaepernick and others have made it very clear that they are trying to speak out for the people who live here, and who are being oppressed. At the end of the day, whether through the military, activism or our daily lives, it is ultimately the American people to whom we must pledge our allegiance. Being willing to criticize one’s home is a form of investment, not rejection. For those kneeling on the sidelines, patriotism comes in many more varieties than what we typically perceive.