Patriot Debate: Taking a knee
November 15, 2017
Peaceful protest raises awareness for racial injustices
Football players and coaches alike took a knee. Peacefully, they closed their mouths, never uttering a word, and simultaneously they opened a worldwide conversation where everyone has something to say. With one action, one peaceful demonstration, they sparked a national debate.
In recent years, as protests have grown in numbers, so has criticism. For example, during the Baltimore riots, I constantly heard people conveying their disgust for the racial equality movement when they said, “There are other ways to protest than this.” I had believed this statement was in reference to the small group of extremists, who did not represent the cause as a whole, using violence in the streets of Baltimore. Those who critiqued the riots seemed to be advocating for peaceful protests, which was something I had admired.
However, when the Baltimore Ravens took a knee during the national anthem on Sept. 24, I heard the same thing. Within the first quarter of the game, people angrily repeated: “There are other ways to protest than this.” I couldn’t understand. How could there still be national uproar about protests against racial injustice when these players calmly took a knee without saying a word? How much more peaceful could it get?
And then I found my answer: it makes no difference. No matter how peaceful the protest is, criticism remains. No matter how people of color try to advocate for themselves, to address the issues at hand, or to spread their thoughts, people will continue to disapprove.
So my question to those who disagree with kneeling as a protest is this: is it truly the form of protest that bothers you, or is it the message of racial injustice these men are trying to convey?
We all must recognize that protesting is a crucial and important right for all Americans. It is written in the First Amendment that every citizen is guaranteed the right to petition and the ability to express their beliefs. Teams are utilizing their American right to stand up, or rather take a knee, for what they believe in.
Even after copious amounts of publicity and media coverage, fans are focusing on how the players protested instead of why they protested. There is a gaping absence of understanding, and as a result people begin assuming. There are claims that the kneeling is an anti-American movement, a protest against the military, or an insult to our country. In reality, these recent protests, such as the one by the Baltimore Ravens, are against the comments made by President Donald Trump.
In a video posted by RealClearPolitics, an online political news source, Trump spoke out against kneeling at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired!’” Trump said.
These comments are the inspiration behind their most recent movement, not a hatred for the country.
For example, in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand from her seat and move to the back of the bus. She was not protesting public transportation systems. Parks was raising awareness for African American rights. Similarly, NFL players are not protesting the military, the national anthem, or the flag. They are bringing attention to the racial issues that still exist today.
In addition, the NFL has gone above and beyond to prove its respect to the military and the troops who risk their lives for our country. Every year, all 32 teams participate in the Salute to Service Campaign. Locally, the Baltimore Ravens support the military through Seats for Service and The Wounded Warrior Project, but they have done far more than just this.
Head coach John Harbaugh helped Joey Odoms, a member of the military, audition to sing the national anthem. According to an article from The Baltimore Sun, Odoms had asked Harbaugh for the opportunity to audition when the coach was visiting an Afghanistan military base in 2013.
As stated in an article from Fox News, Odoms, now a veteran, resigned from his position of singing the national anthem after three years. He did this due to NFL fans’ unaccepting reactions to taking a knee. Odoms wrote, “The tone/actions of a large number of NFL fans in the midst of our country’s cultural crisis have convinced me that I do not belong there. Someone once told me to always ‘go where you’re welcomed.’”
These men were gifted with a large population of viewers and have raised awareness for an issue that affects not only themselves, but their children, families, friends, teammates, and all people of color. Sometimes it is easy to forget the hardship these people endure when we ourselves are not facing it. It can be difficult to grasp why someone would kneel if we are not in their shoes.
This is why kneeling is and will continue to be a positive form of protest. The players and coaches are taking the initiative to recognize a national problem. They are not disrespecting their country, those who serve it, or those who have died to protect it. They are advocating for racial equality and rejecting any people, including their President, who tell them they cannot do so.
So I’ll ask my question one more time: is it truly the form of protest that bothers you, or is it the message of racial injustice these men are trying to convey?
Alyssa Kraus is the co-Editor in Chief of The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.
National Football League becomes “No Fans Left”
On Sunday, Sept. 24, I was extremely eager to watch my favorite football team, the Baltimore Ravens, play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, United Kingdom. As the national anthem played on the TV, I was immediately shocked by the image of players with blank stares kneeling on the sidelines of Wembley Stadium.
The players’ failure to at least put their hands on their hearts made me and others question their loyalty to the United States. By standing for the British anthem, I was left with many questions. Why was the overseas game the right time? They were kneeling for racial injustices, but why couldn’t it wait? Why would John Harbaugh allow this, especially since Baltimore was where the national anthem was written? I had always thought the teams in the NFL were better than this and they weren’t this kind of organization.
I do not hold the opinion that the Ravens dislike America, but they do send unclear messages by taking such an action during the national anthem. I, like some other Ravens fans, did not appreciate them standing for the British anthem and not standing for their own, since the U.K. is not where they call home. Many of these players may not have had the opportunity to make millions of dollars or follow their dreams of playing professional football in any other country.
Players kneeling or failing to be present for the national anthem is outrageous. The flag represents just one of the many reasons why players have the right to speak out, and they should honor that. Kneeling is disrespectful not only to America, but also to every soldier who has served, passed away, or is currently serving to try to preserve our freedom.
In an interview with the Tennessean, National Anthem Legion Commander Denise Rohan says she disagrees with protesting during the national anthem. “Having a right to do something does not make it the right thing to do. There are many ways to protest, but the national anthem should be our moment to stand together as one United States of America,” Rohan said. She is correct, as it is one of our only ways to stand together in today’s divided world.
Every athlete should have the choice to stand, regardless of what the rest of their team is doing, but it didn’t seem like many had a choice to me. As an American, I have always been taught to not follow the crowd, but in this case, players followed their teams possibly because opposition posed a threat to their job. The players need to learn to speak up or take action when they believe they are being forced to join a side.
Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an Army Ranger veteran who graduated from West Point and served three years in Afghanistan, chose to stand alone for the anthem, even when his team remained in the locker room. Villanueva showed a tremendous amount of respect for the flag, even if it meant doing it alone.
It is still shocking to me that his teammates did not stand by one of their own, whom this issue greatly affects as a veteran. No man should be the only one on his team standing with hand on heart, proud to be an American.
Although players are not officially required to participate, players should be in order to respect the country that allows them to have the opportunity to play the sport they love. When any team doesn’t stand for the national anthem, the NFL should impose a consequence.
This is not only a team issue, but it exists on a deeper level. Fans will stop, and have stopped, supporting “un-American” teams who fail to participate in traditional American conduct, such as the national anthem. Many others, like myself, do not want to support a team who does not show true patriotism.
The Flag Code of the United States in itself says that no disrespect should be shown to the flag by saying: “‘No disrespect should be shown to the Flag of the United States of America.’ Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.” Athletes did not show respect to the flag, and therefore their actions are deemed unacceptable.
One of the other reasons they protested was due to the the president’s remarks. However, the flag doesn’t solely represent the president, but rather it is about the ones who risk their lives for the United States each and every day. Some consequence, such as a fine, should be imposed on people who fail to stand, as it is hurtful to many soldiers and citizens.
America is a free country, but the problem here is that Americans are abusing their freedom by disrespecting American traditions. Our country is already divided, and athletes should be the ones attempting to mend the divide, not amplify the issue.
Athletes have an endless number of ways to voice their opinions, especially because of their status in society. They are public figures who can lead their supporters in the right direction. By failing to follow American routine, they are steering their fans the wrong way.
At the end of the day, members of the NFL are paid to play football and do their job well, not to make statements against the United States. There are traditional American routines for a reason, and that reason is for all citizens to participate in them. There should be no exceptions made for coaches or teams, regardless of the point they are trying to make.
Annemarie Bonner is a Perspectives Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com