NFL Players Start a Star-Spangled Banter

Washington Redskins teammates during the National Anthem before a game against the Oakland Raiders at FedExField on September 24, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. Source :   Creative Commons.

Washington Redskins teammates during the National Anthem before a game against the Oakland Raiders at FedExField on September 24, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. Source : Creative Commons.

Usually when your favorite NFL team takes a knee, it's a good thing. In victory formation the quarterback takes a knee to run out the clock and seal the victory for his football team. The dozens of NFL players kneeling on the field this season signals a battle that has just begun. One that has drawn the attention of the President Of The United States, and the anger of a nation that can't seem to agree.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump and others are missing the point of this protest. A stance that's been shrouded in debate since then San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick took his initial knee over one year ago. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Kaepernick said. After starting his protest, a push came from both political sides - those who support the notion that systemic oppression of minorities in society needs to be addressed, and those who were too hung up on the flag to really look into the issue.

I can sympathize with those who don't like the action of kneeling during the national anthem; this kind of participation has been ingrained in us since childhood. We had to stand for the pledge of allegiance to that very flag in grade school. The action in both instances can be seen as a question to you from our nation asking, "Do you stand with us?"

It's easy to spin it that way, but in reality there's nothing illegal or immoral with what these men are doing. The NFL players who are peacefully protesting are simply taking a knee or locking arms during the national anthem, they want to show unity and spread awareness on police brutality amongst minorities. 49ers safety Eric Reid, a former teammate of Kaepernick's was one of the first to join the peaceful protest, and wrote in the New York Times last week explaining his decision to continue fighting for the cause despite loads of criticism. "It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest." Reid said.

Reid goes on to write that he and Kaepernick were given the idea to kneel by retired Green Beret Nate Bowyer, a gesture that would be more respectful than just sitting on the bench, and one that would mimic a flag at half-mast.

Still the debate goes on, but players have taken other actions besides kneeling. Three NFL teams decided to stay in their locker rooms for the national anthem earlier this season; Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, was in the news when a photo surfaced of him standing outside for the anthem while his teammates stayed inside. Villanueva downplayed this as a misunderstanding. NFL coaches and even team owners were also involved, in a joint response to President Trump's comments on kneeling, saying that players who do so are S.O.B.'s and they "should be fired."

While it doesn't come as a surprise to some, it's disheartening to see the President fall into this same judgemental trap. The fact that he never addressed the motives behind this protest, proves that this is a stance that players and citizens need to continue to support. The government's non-response is further evidence that systemic oppression of minorities exists in this country, and it is controversial topics like this that need to be brought up time and time again, until our leaders address the issue.

I'm not asking for everyone to kneel, as I understand that it can be an uncomfortable thing for some people. But even if you don't, you can still be a part of change like these players who have put their reputations on the line. 29-year old Kaepernick doesn't have a job because of his protest. The same fate could strike anyone else at their job, but it's not an excuse to demean and ridicule those who take a stand for something they believe in.

I support the real issue at hand here, and the actions of players like Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr. who've raised their fists after scoring a touchdown, to immulate Olympian Jesse Owens. I support locking arms like marchers did during the civil rights movement, and I support the hardest action of them all: taking a knee during the national anthem in hopes that the United States becomes a better place for all.