Let Them Kneel

The recent protests regarding many NFL players kneeling for the national anthem before games has stirred an immense amount of controversy. The protest, which was started by Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the 49ers, began in 2016. Kaepernick protested the treatment of African Americans by police, and the justice systems failure to punish cops that have killed innocent black people in the past year. This past month, teams across the NFL joined in the protest, either taking a knee, standing arm in arm, or simply refusing to leave the locker rooms during the national anthem. The outrage that ensued from the protests was substantial, to say the least.

Those who oppose the protests claim it is disrespectful to the flag, to the country, and even to fallen veterans. The defense for these accusations is simple. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Martin Luther King, was not protesting buses, it was a protest against the unfair treatment of African Americans. Gandhi’s hunger strike was not a protest against food, it was a protest against the oppressive rule of imperialistic England. In turn, the protests recently carried out by NFL players are not a protest against a flag, or a song, or any individuals such as the President. It is a protest against injustices faced by African Americans in the United States, and it is a demonstration of core American values such as the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech.

There are many arguments against kneeling for the national anthem. Some common ones are: “It’s just not the right way to go about it” or “It doesn’t accomplish anything.” But if this isn’t the right way, what is? Catherine Applebaum, a junior, states, “Taking a knee is probably the most effective form of peaceful protest they can commit to. Every other form of protest would probably be dangerous or extremely unpleasant.” The protests that have occurred over the past year and a half have started a national debate. People who never paid any attention to the NFL are watching. Colin Kapernick has accomplished what he set out to do. He proved he would not remain idle in a society that had so many issues to address, and he inspired others to do the same. He never turned to any form of hate speech, aggression, or violence, and neither did those who knelt with him in solidarity.

Some chose not to kneel at first, but changed their minds after President Trump turned to twitter voicing his opinion that NFL players who took a knee should be, “fired or suspended.” At this point, the demonstrations took on an even greater meaning. Trump’s act of condemning a peaceful protest led to a massive wave of solidarity in the NFL, where some knelt simply to prove they had the right to. As reported by The New York Times, when asked why he changed his mind and decided to kneel, Julius Thomas, a tight end for the Miami Dolphins, explained, “To have the President trying to intimidate people — I wanted to send a message that I don’t condone that. I’m not O.K. with somebody trying to prevent someone from standing up for what they think is important.” During a speech in Alabama, Trump exclaimed, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a ***** off the field right now, he’s fired! He’s fired!” This crass language was, of course, met with outrage. Many students disagreed with Trump’s statements. Junior Jason Shao stated, “As Americans, we have the freedom to protest, so, therefore, players who feel the need to protest should be able to without losing their job.” Pooja Sha, a junior, also showed disapproval of Trump’s statement, saying, “I don’t agree with Trump’s stance on what should happen to the players because, in this country, we have freedom of speech and expression, no matter what we are saying and regardless of who likes and dislikes it.”

For the same people who so passionately praise the freedom entitled to Americans to be against NFL players’ freedom to protest and speak out is ironic, and, quite frankly, hypocritical. You cannot honor the land of the free without allowing the freedom of protest, free will, and free speech. Perhaps if people stopped trying to force others to act patriotic the country could instead address the issues players they are protesting for in the first place. This way, we could create change that will allow all Americans, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or background, to be proud of their country.