Kneeling in the NFL: Two Perspectives

photo courtesy of Halie West, Redlands Bulldog photo editor



Lexi Toney Reports

In early September of 2017, prominent social justice activist and journalist Shaun King called for a national boycott of the NFL, a passionate counter to the effective banning of former 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the league.


NFL stars, executives, and experts who don’t even agree with Colin taking a knee during the national anthem have all come out to say that the only reason he’s not on a roster right now is because of his stance against injustice,” King writes. “To say otherwise is a lie.”


It was not just Sunday night viewers that followed suit, as a domino effect of football players began kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick. Player after player knelt in silence during the national anthem — Antoine Bethea, Eli Harold, Jaquiski Tartt, and others — soon transgressing off the football field into the MLB, as Bruce Maxwell of Oakland Athletics was the first to take a knee in baseball.


Weeks later, Donald Trump also called for a national boycott of the NFL, but for a very different reason — a response to the very fact that players were kneeling in protest without consequence from the league.


“Fire or suspend!” he demanded among his series of tweets. And, as if on cue, Vice President Mike Pence recently partook in a walkout due to the 49’ers kneeling at the Colts game he attended — costing taxpayers around $250k in airfares.


Let’s clarify what seems to be the fundamental misunderstanding — or conscious ignorance — which has spurred nationwide controversy and outrage: what the American flag actually symbolizes in the first place. For Kaepernick, the flag symbolizes freedom and liberty for all. For Pence and Trump, the flag symbolizes military sacrifice. For me, the flag could symbolize nothing — or anything. It could symbolize America, the color red, politics, turkey sandwiches, capitalism, Christmas mornings or my favorite pizza toppings. And perhaps some of these examples seem silly, but they’re not necessarily untrue — anything, including the flag, could symbolize anything for any individual, as we are complex and free-thinking individuals with a diverse set of thoughts and beliefs.


But what has to be emphasized here is how Kaepernick interprets the flag, what he is protesting, and why. No part of his statement has ever alluded to being anti-police or anti-veteran, made evident when Kaepernick explicitly stated he was not anti-police or anti-veteran. Kaepernick has always clearly expressed his intent with the protest being unequivocally about the oppression of minorities. Any other interpretation of his protest is a projection of one’s own beliefs. And, indeed, certainly anyone can choose to ignore Kaepernick’s perception of the flag and see only their own, but the most basic lesson parents can teach their children is empathy, is understanding, is “seeing it in their shoes.” Why is this lost now? Why would anyone consciously choose to ignore someone’s intent in protest, as they kneel on a field and ask the public to hear their story and struggle? What is gained?


Because regardless of someone else’s perception of the flag, Kaepernick’s take on the flag would certainly justify kneeling in protest, considering black children are funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline each year, resulting in black people being incarcerated at 5 times the rate of white people, and in 2017, make up 23 percent of those shot by the police despite being only 13 percent of the U.S. population.


Regardless, though, even ignoring the kneelers’ intent entirely, a peaceful protest is a peaceful protest. Kaepernick was on the job, in uniform, yes, but the First Amendment doesn’t say “freedom of speech (unless while working).” Kaepernick could advocate in other ways, yes — as if he hasn’t already donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppressed communities, led youth empowerment organizations, and used his personal social media platforms to reach wide audiences — but the First Amendment still doesn’t say “freedom of speech (unless related to the flag).” Kaepernick and all players who’ve knelt could feasibly do any of the dozens of alternatives that have been presented to them over the course of the year and completely avoided the public attention, nationwide discourse and push for advocacy and reform — oh, wait. It’s almost as if that was the point.


If the kneeling makes you uncomfortable, it is working. The backbone of progress in American civil rights movements has never been complying to the demands of the majority. When we teach such progress in school, we teach how Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed heads, raised fists, and said “no.” We teach this because dissent is inherently patriotic; it is admirable.


Loving America doesn’t have to stay within the bounds of unconditionally supporting America, and it shouldn’t. Appreciating veterans and police in their lives of service doesn’t have to stay within the bounds of unconditionally supporting each one individually, and it shouldn’t. Those who choose to kneel recognize how the very foundations of democracy are held strongly intact when we hold each other responsible, when we strive for better.


As Kaepernick said, “There are a lot things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for: freedom, liberty and justice for all.”


Zach Williams reports

In late August of 2016, San Francisco 49’ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, decided to take a knee during the Nation’s national anthem. He claimed it was in protest of Police Brutality and the hateful attitude toward people of color. One year later, President Donald Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody’s disrespecting our flag to say ‘Get that S.O.B. off the field right now?’”


Personally, I stand by the President. Everyone has a right to protest along with their Freedom of Speech, including NFL players; that is what makes America, America. However, the workplace,  is not the time or place to protest. NFL players sign multi million dollar contracts to play the sport and entertain the fans. It is their job. Therefore, based on the rules of the company, it is inappropriate to protest during work hours. Not to mention that the NFL is used to bring people together. When an audience watches a game, most people aren’t thinking about politics or others’ political affiliations. Everyone is focused on their team of choice, and are cheering and crying together as one. Now we are being forced to choose sides in an industry that exists to take us out of our everyday struggles.


But, is Kaepernick right? Is Police Brutality against those of color a rampant issue that needs to be fixed? Let’s look at the facts.


Harvard Professor of Economics, Ronald G. Fryer Jr, conducted a study to investigate if black people were killed more by police than white people. Using thousands of incidents from ten different police departments located in California, Florida, and Nevada, as well as pulling from four criminal databases, Fryer’s research showed that although people of color were more likely to have negative interactions with police, the number of black and white people killed was no different.


“On the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account…” Fryer Jr. stated.


Furthermore, there appear to be more killings committed by black Americans toward other black Americans, rather than by police officers.


According to The Washington Post’s tally, 17 unarmed black men were killed last year by police out of the total population of black Americans which is 20 million people. That number is roughly .00008% of the total 20 million. Compared to cities such as Chicago, where according to CNN, there were 762 murders and 4,331 shootings victims caused by violent gangs who were mostly black, last year. And the total number of deaths from Black Americans killing another Black American in 2013 which is 2,491 based on the FBI’s criminal database, we can conclude that the bigger issue is that of gang violence in inner cities, not in the police department, despite what Kaepernick was claiming.


“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…” said Kaepernick, the now famous quarterback. “There are bodies in the street and people are getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”


Kaepernik would be incorrect based on the research listed above. America’s government does not oppress people of color, it gives them, and everyone, the opportunity to better their lives and become successful. While inner cities, where most of these atrocious crimes take place, need to be addressed, America remains a land of opportunity. It is a place where professional athletes can become national superstars who  earn an average of $1.9 million and are adored by millions of fans. What other country can offer such an enticing profession? England is not one of them, with their professional Rugby  players only earning 81,000 Great British Pounds, or $107,342. Yet, on the NFL’s first out of country game, located in London of this year, both the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars knelt for the Star-Spangled Banner, and stood for God Save the Queen, an anthem for a country whose people are much more oppressed when compared to the U.S.


In conclusion, while Kaepernick did meet with a former Green Beret, Nate Boyer, where the two agreed kneeling during the anthem would be an appropriate action for his cause, it is still offensive to kneel for an anthem of a country that gives players such as Kaepernick the opportunity to become successful.


It is still offensive for the NFL to say they are behind Free Speech, yet cut Kaepernick who started the movement, along with coaches criticizing players who stand for the National Anthem.


And finally, it is still offensive to focus on the violent crimes that are being committed by police officers, when we should be focusing on the real issue of inner city chaos. No country is perfect– we obviously have problems that must be fixed, but what does ‘taking a knee’ solve? Nothing. What does arguing over ‘taking a knee’ solve? Nothing. It’s time we unite as one nation in order to solve some real issues. It’s time we stop categorizing each other by the colors of our skin, and start seeing the people behind them. It’s time we stop disrespecting a symbol of our freedom, and take pride in the fact that we are all Americans who have the power to shape our own destiny.