To Kneel, or Not to Kneel?

What seems like occurred as an overnight seismic change, the worlds of sports and politics are more intertwined today than any point in time over the last several decades. Colin Kaepernick, who was a Super Bowl caliber quarterback as recently as several years ago, has ignited national debate over sports, race, politics, patriotism and justice after making one simple choice: to kneel. Since that decision was made, there has been no shortage of opinions by politicians, pundits, players, coaches, and fans on how the protests deserve to be treated.

What seems to be the most prevalent response by regular NFL viewers and casually involved citizens alike, in fact, is far more interesting than the tweet of the president or the cries of boycott from an impulsive fan base. The vast majority of people firmly believe that the players have the “right” to protest. Although this number at base value is somewhat meaningless, because the constitutional right to protest should not be and is not contingent on fickle public opinion, the numbers do prove that the protests are not perceived as being so egregious that they go beyond first amendment protections. About 2/3 of Americans believe players should not be punished or fired for the protests while, at the same time, roughly 2/3 of Americans disagree with the players chosen method of protest.

Additionally, those who care about this issue, on either side, should be weary of current public opinion and instead pay close attention to historical trends. In 1966, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, 66 percent of Americans gave Martin Luther King a negative rating, according to a Gallup poll. Also, a majority of Americans disapproved of the Montgomery Bus System Boycott, the Freedom Riders, lunch counter sit-ins, and the Selma Marches. Public opinion has always been fluid, especially when it comes to civilian protests against racial injustice. The standards and morals of society change quickly, much like they have in respect to gay marriage over the past decade. I do not believe that it would be an absurd assumption to think that, eventually, the anthem protests will be viewed far differently in the future compared to how they are today.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is how the narrative of how politics and sports have become inextricably linked. What most people seem to forget, however, is that politics and sports have always been intertwined by issues such as race, gender, ideology, religion, and nationality. Iconic boxer Muhammad Ali’s entire career was surrounded by political controversy, due to his conversion to Islam and refusal to participate in the Vietnam War. The world of sports changed forever when tennis legend Billy Jean King defeated fellow player and proud chauvinist, Bobby Riggs. That event, which was crudely labeled “The Battle of the Sexes,” was viewed by over 90 million worldwide and still holds the record for highest attendance at an American tennis match. Jackie Robinson, when he first entered professional baseball, did not have the luxury of being “apolitical” when he was constantly taunted with racial epithets by fans and players alike. Sports have always been at the center of political controversy, so the idea that players must be neutral in all political matters is not just wrongheaded and utterly disingenuous, it is patently and historically untrue. Also, although many may disagree, singing the national anthem before sporting events is itself a political act and statement. What is more American than using that short window of time than to stand up for, or kneel down for, what you believe should be done to better the nation?

I will end this post with a transition into the below video, which features sport’s pundit and personality Nick Wright and his opinions on what has quickly turned into yet another chapter in our nation’s long, grueling, and divisive history over the politics of sports and race.

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6 Responses to To Kneel, or Not to Kneel?

  1. LukaKolomejac says:

    Donald Trump, like Bobby Riggs, is “putting the show back in chauvinism”! During the 2016 election campaign, Trump stopped to hug the American flag and rub it like a person who is full from a meal. Our president is aggressively patriotic to the point that he will tweet more about NFL players silently protesting instead of discussing issues that are perhaps more pressing (not to minimize the protests and its message), such as the crisis in Puerto Rico, nuclear threats from North Korea, and deciding the fate of millions of Americans health insurance. Assuming that Trump is acting rationally, he could be focusing on the NFL to distract the media and in effect the the masses from these pressing issues. This strategy has worked to an extent. I still remember trump re-tweeting a video of himself hitting a gold ball that was edited to show the ball hitting Hillary Clinton. This was posted over 200 after the election and is red meat for his base.

    Hugging the flag is easy. Actually solving national problems is hard. I believe eventually, if it has not begun already, the vast majority of Americans will be tired and disappointed in Trump for not transitioning from election rhetoric and aggressive patriotism to focusing on his campaign goals. If Trump wants to succeed as president in his supporters eyes, he will have to acknowledge he will have to work with those who are not fully on board with his ideas. For those who do not want trump to succeed in his campaign goals, such as the majority of those who voted, his perceived incompetence in crafting policy messages is welcomed, so long as it does not lead to an avoidable crisis.

  2. courtneymonus says:

    Even though our constitution protects the right to protest, this situation has been getting a lot of negative coverage lately coverage. As long as no one is getting injured I think these players have every right to protest what they believe in. Just like the viewers have the right to stop watching, the players have the right to do what they want. I know many people who do not like that sports are getting political. Like your example with Muhammad Ali, majority of the time when stuff becomes political it is because politics inserted itself into the situation. With the Kneeling situation it started out as a few players who would do this, then Trump tweeted about it and after that it seemed like many teams were doing it out of anger for what he said and also support for their teammates decisions. I think that the situation would not be where it currently is if he did not tweet about it. Also it did not start as a protest for the flag but since Trump started talking about it that is what it has turned into which has also angered many individuals.

  3. I, like the vast majority agree that NFL players have the right to protest. All citizens certainly including professional athletes should enjoy their freedom of speech. I cannot imagine that taking a knee during the National Anthem will ever be looked at in the future so differently as a protest belonging in the same discussion as Mohammad Ali’s protest against the Vietnam War, Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus or Dr. Martin Luther King’s many controversial civil disobediences during his fight for equal rights. My understanding of all those noble protests is that they were directed at flawed systems that needed to be challenged while showing disrespect for our flag and the 22 million living US Military veterans or the hundreds of thousands of military who were wounded or killed serving America.

  4. dasboot01 says:

    Regarding the issue of kneeling during the national anthem, I think the only way someone could be in the wrong is by forcing someone to stand during the anthem. With Kaepernick and many other NFL players, these individuals entirely have the right to knee during the anthem. The national anthem, which has been made out to honor America and those who have served the country is sacred among many Americans. Many veterans have come out and supported the NFL players for what they are doing, however many other Americans are disgusted by this. There isn’t an easy answer to this situation since ultimately the owners of these teams can avoid signing a player because they took a knee during the anthem which wouldn’t be discriminatory since the owners can make the argument that kneeling during the anthem is discriminatory in it’s right.

    In reality both sides have good arguments for either arguing for or against kneeing during the national anthem and I don’t anyone should be offended by the other side. As the players have the right to kneel during the anthem, others have the right to criticize them.

  5. jisthelamb says:

    Personally I do not follow sports much but, I kept seeing the facebook and news posts on how NFL players kneeling was appalling and disrespectful towards our nation and the Flag. So because most of the post were from people I knew, I naturally took sides. Taking a further look into the issue of kneeling I discovered that it was an opportunity for the NFL players to broadcast the current and past systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality, and the criminal justice system. In the words of Nate Bayer, taking a knee during the national anthem is like lowering the flag at half mast. As for the NFL players it is actually a demonstration of respect.

  6. landonsabori says:

    This is one of the most interesting topics to talk about especially since I enjoy the NFL a lot. I think that every player has there right to protest but I think it could be handled differently. I love that the players and organizations are uniting together and finding common ground. I think that if they want to be heard they are going about it a good way but from a level of respect I think it could be handled differently. I think people do not think of the big picture with players kneeling, I feel like they only want to think of it as players disrespecting our nation and what we believe in. The flag is a symbol for freedom so the players should be able to show how they respect the flag in their own manner. Everyone shows respect in a different manner and I think its the players right to do what they would like.

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