Taking a knee

Kate Hennessey, sports editor

As a student journalist, exercising the First Amendment is something that comes quite easy. It is a basic right that our country was founded on, one that makes the United States unique compared to other countries. It is the reason members of the alt-right and neo-Nazis are able to walk down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying Nazi symbols and yelling anti-semitic slogans, while clashing with counter-protesters. It is the same reason players in the NFL  are able to kneel during the national anthem.


In the first 2016 preseason games, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers went unnoticed sitting during the national anthem. It wasn’t until a photo captured during the anthem was posted on Twitter showing Kaepernick sitting on a bench with his teammates standing in front of him and his number seven peeking out above a table. In response to the national attention Kaepernick sparked from the photo, according to SBNation he responded, “The stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and affect change.”


After speaking with former Army Green Beret, Nate Boyer, a free agent long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks, Kaepernick decided to kneel as a sign of respect to the military, while protesting the injustice in the U.S. Soon, Kaepernick was joined by teammate Eric Reid, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks and many more. However, these were more isolated incidents that could be lost in the crowd. Fans could still ignore what their beloved players were doing and what exactly they were protesting.


In the 2017 season, mass protests from players and coaching staffs ensued when President Donald J. Trump commented on the kneeling players by suggesting that coaches pull them off the field and fire them. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say ‘Get that son of a bitch off that field right now?” said Trump at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, according to CBSBoston.

Recently, Bruce Maxwell, catcher for the Oakland A’s, became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem. A soccer team in Europe, Hertha Berlin, kneeled at the start of their match in solidarity with athletes in the U.S. Kaepernick’s movement has spread beyond the football field and even past professional sports. High school football players across the country are beginning to take part in the movement. In a high school in Louisiana, players were threatened to be kicked off the team if they refused to stand for the anthem, according to The New York Times. They further reported students in a Long Island Catholic school faced punishment if they too refused to stand. KHS head football coach, Farrell Shelton, however, made it clear his players would not be impacted by kneeling.


“Kneeling for the flag and your playing time [have] nothing to do with each other,” Shelton said. “They’re two completely different deals. What we want to do is make sure that we have a plan before [the anthem is played]. We had a leadership council and that’s what they expressed, ‘let’s have a plan for change and let’s make sure we move forward’.”


Moving forward seems impossible when some refuse to acknowledge even the most fundamental rights players have on the field. In his speech, President Trump was attempting to kill a growing movement Kaepernick started. His attempt completely backfired. Many players felt obligated to speak out about his comments, as well as why they kneel. Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins, when asked about Trump’s comments stated, “Am I American? Am I here to fight for the home of the free and the brave? Am I? Am I really free?”. Jabaal Sheard of the Indiana Colts shared on Twitter, “My actions were not meant to disrespect those who’ve risked their lives for our freedoms…My actions were in solidarity with our brothers and sisters facing unjust treatment.”

Through multiple mass protests and riots, race continues to be one of the most dividing topics in America. Fans seem angry their precious sport is now tainted with racial issues. Opposers have turned the racial issues players are attempting to call attention to into an issue over respect for the flag. Possibly because a conversation about race would bring about a long history of blatant injustices African Americans have faced in the U.S. and continue to today. Outraged fans have called for protests of the NFL because players are now seen as attacking the flag and disrespecting the military. Fans burned their jerseys, booed during games and some vowed to never watch another NFL game.

This movement is not about disrespect. Kaepernick started this movement because of the shootings of African Americans and the police brutality they face. The Washington Post found in a recent study that, “black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police.” That is why Kaepernick first knelt. Michael Brown. Philando Castile. Eric Gardner. Alton Sterling. Freddie Grey. And many more are why Kaepernick and players have the right to, and need to, take a knee on the football field.