NFL anthem protests misunderstood

Devon Greene, Assistant Sports Editor

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We’re a little over a year removed from Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and the treatment of people of color in America by kneeling for the national anthem.

Kaepernick began kneeling for the anthem unnoticed in the San Francisco 49ers first preseason game against the Houston Texans on Aug. 14. The protest didn’t gain notoriety until three weeks later when he met with the media to discuss his decision and reasoning behind his stance.

“When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand,” Kaepernick said.

His protest was immediately twisted into something that it was not. It was perceived as a stance against the military. Kaepernick immediately shot this down with another statement.

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country,” Kaepernick said. “And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liber
ty and justice, for everyone.
That’s not happening.”

His protest began to spread very slowly as his teammate Eric Reid and players from the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots began to kneel and perform other various demonstrations during the anthem. The kneel then outgrew football on Sept. 4 as Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign Football Club kneeled during her matchup against the Chicago Red Stars.

Over a year later, the social climate in America hasn’t gotten much better. Kaepernick’s original words and reasoning for his protest have been forgotten as he finds himself without a job in the NFL despite being more qualified than other candidates that have received contracts as backups and starters.

It is completely reasonable to conclude that Kaepernick is being blackballed from a job in the league. Pittsburg Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward stated that he doesn’t understand why teams haven’t jumped at the opportunity to sign the free agent quarterback.

“I don’t know how teams are approaching it. But I don’t understand why he doesn’t have a job,” Heyward said. “If you look at his stats alone, he’s better than some quarterbacks playing. That’s just plain fact. I just don’t get it.”

The protests have continued into the 2017 season even without the originator in the NFL. However, this season, we’ve seen superstar players take a stance. All-Star players Khalil Mack, Michael Bennett, Malcom Jenkins, Marshawn Lynch and Robert Quinn were all seen either kneeling, sitting or raising their fists during the national anthem this year.

Another major difference we’ve seen this year is a form of support coming from white players standing alongside their non-Caucasian counterparts. Star quarterback Derek Carr put his hand on the shoulder of Khalil Mack during the national anthem.

“What we wanted to do was show all the kids that look up to me, look up to him, that white kids, brown kids, blue, green, doesn’t matter, can all be loving to each other and that’s what me and Khalil are — we’re best friends and we love one another,” Carr said to reporters and other members of the media after a game.

Chris Long did a similar gesture in the Eagles’ game against the Buffalo Bills, as he placed his hand on Jenkins’ back during the anthem. This support comes just days after Bennett appeared on SportsCenter and said that the involvement of white players would be the tipping point in getting the protest more accepted around
the league.

“It would take a white player to really get things changed because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it … it would change the whole conversation,” Bennet said. “Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation, making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”

The support of white players is essential to drive home the importance of this protest and stance against racism and mistreatment of people of color in America. It is disheartening that it took a white nationalist and neo-Nazi rally for others to finally understand and realize what are plaguing people of color.

The NFL is finding itself stuck between a rock in a hard place due to their conservative-leaning values with strong ties to the armed forces. As of now, they’ve made no major rule changes requiring their players to stand as the NBA requires them to do after a protest by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf did in 1996. Abdul-Rauf is a practicing Muslim and he felt that it went against his principles to stand for a nation that oppressed people of color. To this day, Abdul-Rauf does not stand for the national anthem and he says he does not regret a single thing about his protest.

“It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles. Whether I go broke, whether they take my life, whatever it is, I stood on principles,” Abdul-Rauf said. “To me, that is worth more than wealth and fame.”

Almost immediately after his sitting for the anthem, he was fined $32,000 of his $2.6 million salary. After the impasse with the NBA, Abdul-Rauf and the NBA reached a compromise with the NBA requiring him to stand but he could put his head down and pray during the anthem.

Will the NFL follow the NBA’s lead and require their players to stand for the national anthem? I think it’s too late to make a move like this. Star players are joining the cause and the public support has done nothing but grow considering the events that are giving the American public a rude awakening to the levels of racism that are still living all across the country.

Head coaches and NFL owners have cracked down on their individual teams, telling their players that they must stand for the anthem. An anonymous owner came out last year and laid down the iron fist on his organization.

“You’re going stand on the line with your hand on your heart, and you’re going sing the national anthem because this is my stage.”

It’s in no way surprising that this would come out of an NFL owner’s mouth and it’s almost a guarantee that it has taken place in various franchises around the league. It should be an interesting season to watch how the protests unravel and if the social climate improves to a point at which the players who are protesting reach a place where they feel comfortable and supported enough to stand for the
national anthem. 

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