It all centered around the decades-old tradition of performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of each game. More than 200 of the league’s 1,696 players took a knee to protest comments made by President Donald Trump on Twitter calling for team owners to fire players who take a knee in protest during the national anthem.
Nearly every player made some sort of statement by either standing, kneeling, bowing their heads or raising a fist. Three teams – the Steelers, Seahawks and Titans – cowered in their locker rooms until after the anthem was performed. The entire Houston Texans team stood with arms locked in a show of solidarity.
The protests drew a barrage of praise and criticism from all corners of the country and continues to be the topic of office water cooler conversations and television news broadcasts. They also continue to be topics of tweets by the president.
The controversy began last year when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the anthem to protest police brutality and racial discrimination. Since then a handful of players have followed suit. It’s those players who caught the ire of Trump and became the target of his tweets.
As we unravel this controversy there are some things that need to be understood. The players have a right to protest. The president has a right to free speech. Both have left us with a bad taste in our mouths.
President Trump is well within his rights to share is opinion about protesting players. I think he exercised very poor judgment in the way he handled it. Calling for someone to be fired for expressing their beliefs is beneath the dignity of the office he holds. Of course, when you consider that as a realty TV star that his catch phrase was “you’re fired,” it should come as no surprise that he would take that tact.
I have long been a critic of Kaepernick and company for their chosen method of protest. I don’t begrudge them for taking a stand against racism and police brutality. Those are just causes. I do wholeheartedly oppose the way they went about it. Taking a knee during the national anthem is highly offensive and sends the wrong message. When you refuse to stand for this country and its symbols you’re taking a position against everything the United States stands for, whether that is your intent or not.
If players want to use their platform to make a protest, don’t do it in a way that spits on the graves of those who sacrificed everything so we can live free. Don’t disrespect those who even now are fighting a war to protect our values and way of life. There are other ways to get your message across. If you want to take a knee, do it during your player introduction rather than bask in your moment of glory. Wear an armband or some other form of symbol on your person.
If unity and equality are what these players really want, they should seek it in a way that isn’t so polarizing and divisive. The playing of the national anthem should be a time of unity and respect. It is not the time to protest. That very clearly sends the wrong message.
The NFL and sports in general have blazed huge trails in the area of race relations. Sports teams are some of the most racially integrated units in the world. They are examples of racial integration that many companies and other communities of people should aspire to. They should be seen as beacons of racial harmony, not racial or patriotic division.
Disrespecting America by taking a knee in protest is not a way to win converts to your cause. It also sets a precedent by which other causes might be protested. All that does is weaken whatever unity and patriotism we have left in this country. This is a time when we need to be coming together, not pulling part. We’ve seen the benefits of that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. I really don’t want to lose that over a foul-mouthed president or misguided protestor.
Even if the protests continue, we have to ask to what end? How will we know when racial equality has been achieved? Where do you draw that line and say, “mission accomplished”? As long as there are people complaining about racism there will be a perception of racism whether it is real or not. I think a more useful thing to do would be to demonstrate unity and talk about how strong we are together than waste time pointing out our faults.
Instead of taking a knee in disrespect, how about taking a hand or linking arms with a person of another color? That would be a much more powerful message of unity and equality than the covfefe we have right now.