Why are we even debating “Taking the Knee?”
Ramneet Kang // Contributor
Illustration by Kyle Papilla
A wave of defiance grew nationwide on Sept. 25 after over 200 NFL players took a knee, locked arms, or refused to stand up for the American national anthem before a game. Much of the public was shocked when President Trump responded by calling for NFL owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who “disrespects our flag.”
It needs to be said that while the US Flag Code does list certain things as disrespectful to the flag – such as printing the flag on cups and plates or clothing – kneeling is not on that list. It is appalling that speaking out in protest of inequality and racial injustice in a “free and fair nation” has been misconstrued as a disrespectful act. The current political and racial climate has become such that players cannot easily exercise their first amendment of rights.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is credited with starting this protest back in August 2016 when he took a knee to protest police brutality stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Fellow athlete and friend Eric Reid recently wrote an article for The New York Times saying, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
In return, Fox News contributor Stephen L. Miller expressed puzzlement with the gesture, saying that the national anthem wasn’t used to honor police officers but rather to honor the men and women serving in the nation’s armed forces.
Kaepernick and his fellow kneeling players have all clearly explained that the primary reason for their gesture is to protest systemic oppression and police brutality against black men, speaking for those who cannot. They are protesting the flag about as much as Rosa Parks was protesting buses.
What Miller and Trump also fail to grasp is that those who fought and died for their country did so to ensure a fair and free society, and a free society includes the right to protest. In fact, many veterans on Twitter showed their support for the movement by posting photos of them kneeling down themselves. Interestingly, Mike Pence left a game in protest of the NFL players protesting. He apparently didn’t get the irony.
Something else to keep in mind is that the time-honoured tradition of NFL players standing for the national anthem is as ye olden as… 2009. Athletes were thereafter “encouraged” to participate as a military marketing campaign to promote nationalism.
Kaepernick has been likened to civil rights heroes such as Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali. Using his free agency, he has donated over $900,000 to organizations working in oppressed communities and has sparked a revolutionary movement. Yet today, he’s considered an extremely polarizing figure and hasn’t been able to find work. Is America really more afraid of a black man on his knee than a white man with a gun?