Kneel and Take a Stand

Despite peacefulness and attempts of respect, backlash to the protest was harsh.

Illustrator: Will Hanson

Football and politics intertwined on Sunday, Sept. 24, when players from several teams knelt during the national anthem. NFL players decided to use the national anthem as a platform to peacefully protest. It all started last year when the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick solitarily took a knee. He was berated and eventually blacklisted by the NFL, leaving him without a team in the 2017 season. No team wanted to sign Kaepernick and risk their ratings due to the poor reaction from the NFL fan base. Before Kaepernick knelt, he remained seated on the bench during the anthem until meeting with retired NFL player and army veteran, Nate Boyer. Boyer informed Kaepernick that he should kneel, much like soldiers at a fallen comrade’s grave. Kaepernick complied, and chose to change his protest in respect to the military. Regardless of the adverse reactions to the initial demonstration, the protest gained traction this year among several different teams.

Despite the protests’ amiability and the players’ attempts to be respectful, backlash to the display was harsh. Critics claimed that the football players were disrespecting the military by not standing, and that they should be thankful for their freedoms that can be accredited to the military. However, the purpose of the demonstration has nothing to do with the military. Instead, the protest revolves around inequality, police brutality, and criminal justice. The players are simply using the national anthem as a means to peacefully protest.

President Donald Trump held a rally in Alabama on Friday, Sept. 22, where he suggested that NFL owners terminate players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, calling the players “sons of bitches.” Compared to the protest in Charlottesville, composed of neo-Nazis, there is a stark contrast in his responses. Trump stated that within the Charlottesville rally, there were “very fine people” and the blame was “on both sides.” This poses an imperative issue involving the president’s morals: Why didn’t Trump claim there were plenty of fine people kneeling during the national anthem?

The president’s reactions when violent, racist characters are involved, compared with his unyielding criticisms toward black players’ peaceful protests, illuminate his dark moral tendencies. An egregious display of hate was reassured with good people “on both sides,” while black players were called “sons of bitches.” This is telling. While racism cannot be proven to be Trump’s motivation, the contrasting responses between Charlottesville and the NFL is proof in itself.