By Ben Coulthard
Colin Kaepernick first took a knee on August 14 in 2016 to bring attention to police brutality and oppression. Fast forward over a year later to Week 12 of the NFL in 2017, and almost 30 players peacefully protested in some way during the national anthem. This form of protesting, where prominent American citizens have a voice and choose to use it, express their concern using their First Amendment rights after many thought the protests would die out. These NFL players who have followed Kaepernick in taking a stand––or rather a knee––must continue doing so until their voices are truly heard by the owners in the NFL and by people nationwide.
Opponents continue to lash out against the protests. They claim the protests are “unpatriotic” or that they disrespect the military. Some call the athletes who protest ignorant, but these critics are those who are truly ignorant. Many of the protesting athletes have given the media their cause for protesting, whether it be to raise awareness towards police brutality, oppression of minorities, or to protest the President’s hateful speech towards them and other teammates. Their means of protest is not a disrespect to members of the military, a common barb thrown out at players who protest, rather it is to raise awareness toward civil rights issues that are somehow still an issue in the United States more than fifty years after activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for basic human decency for African-Americans living in America.
To discredit the claim that the protests were to disrespect the American flag or the military, some players who had previously kneeled decided to stand during the anthem during Veterans Day weekend. The Titans own Rishard Matthews, who normally stayed in the team locker room during the anthem, chose not to protest the anthem and instead walked out onto the field holding hands with soldiers. There is no reason for people to say there is no meaning behind the protests when their motives for protests have been clearly outlined. All it takes is the ability to listen to understand why the protesting players do what they do each week.
New reasons to protest have arisen since the Kaepernick began taking a knee. At a meeting between NFL owners regarding the national anthem protests, Texans owner Bob McNair got caught saying “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” It’s one thing for the players to tune out the noise of people who don’t know what they are put through on a day-to-day basis, but when their employers make off color comments comparing them to prisoners, players wonder just how people they thought they could trust really feel about them. The biggest motivator behind many players participating in the anthem protests came after Donald Trump was quoted saying that NFL owners should fire players who take a knee during the national anthem. Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!” This divisive rhetoric that Trump spewed only united the players even more. The first weekend in the NFL after Trump’s comments saw a member of almost every team take a knee, raise a fist, or find some way to protest the president’s contentious comments. Trump responded saying that the kneeling protests were the reason for poor ratings for the NFL this year. Is it time to ask that maybe it’s due to the lackluster effort put forth by some teams on any given Sunday? And yet, there remain quarterbacks playing in the NFL who are of lower quality and are statistically worse than Kaepernick. Just saying.
The biggest takeaway people can take from the anthem protests is the message, not the means. People with the same message Kaepernick have tried to spread their message through word of mouth or on the news, but to no avail. Dialogue regarding reform in civil rights and oppression of minorities has become more intense since the anthem protests began. The protests have also given citizens the opportunity to look at the message behind them and wonder if their personal opinions about the protests were wrong all along. USA Today/Suffolk University released a poll right after Trump’s comments that showed 51% of those surveyed thought the protests were appropriate. The poll also showed that 68% agreed that Trump’s comments that called for owners to fire players who protested were inappropriate. The public is taking notice, and the players who protest are finally having their message heard.
By Jack Capizzi
On Sunday, November 19, Marshawn Lynch sat during the United States’ national anthem and stood during the Mexican National Anthem. His decision reflects the ignorance and misunderstanding that has corroded this ill-fated movement.
I must preface this article by emphasizing a belief in the right of protest. No citizen should have their ability to peacefully protest an institution, law, or person halted in any way. When a person decides to take a knee to any form of perceived injustice, however, their protest must be scrutinized.
Dividing Lynch’s protest into two halves reveals the lack of sincerity that underlies the entire movement to kneel during the national anthem. The decision to protest the Star-Spangled Banner comes from a desire to draw attention to, as Colin Kaepernick has previously stated, “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” From this basic description, it seems that Lynch, Kaepernick, and their fellow protesters have a genuine claim for their anger and protest. Examining Lynch’s decision to stand for the Mexican national anthem, reveals the insincerity behind the movement. Whereas the United States recognized its black population as citizens with the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868, Mexico did not recognize its black citizens until 2016. Mexico’s suspect treatment of its afro-Hispanic population has long been one of the many flaws that has tainted the Mexican society. There is no question that the United States has committed its own crimes against people of color, however, Lynch would merely need to crack open an MBA Sophomore’s copy of Give Me Liberty! by Eric Foner to realize his mistake.
Another damaging blow to the NFL protests came when Michael Bennett, a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, accused the Las Vegas Police Department of threatening to kill him and holding a gun to his head all because of the color of his skin. Bennett stated, “I’m going to die for no reason other than I am black and my skin color is a threat.” After the LVPD released video of the incident, it was clear that Michael Bennett was lying. Almost everything in his statement can be proved wrong by a simple internet search of the video of his arrest. The only accuracy is that he was detained by the police and not because of his race. The police were called after shots were fired inside of a casino that was occupied by Bennett along with many other black people. So, Bennett could not have been singled out because of his race. Also, when Bennett was approached by the police, he ran away from them and jumped over a four-foot barrier. Later in his statement, Bennett compares himself by name to actual victims of police brutality. That he would falsify an entire incident to support an agenda of protest severely undermines the statement that he and other protesters have been trying to make.
An obtrusive inconsistency of the movement has been the vagueness of its intention. From initial questions about what the actual concerns of the movement were to unspecified wishes of change, the public value placed on the movement has waned. At the moment, the movement seems to be directed at the league ownership and not at an “oppressive” American system.
Every citizen should be encouraged to protest what he or she believes is wrong. If your protest is fraught with ignorance, division, and lies, however, you should except criticism. In the final months of the NFL season, emphasis must be placed on how the protests continue. Will they die out from a lack of unity or will they finally outline what adjustments they wish to be made with the current system?