Over the weekend, social media feeds were flooded with the hashtag #TakeAKnee. The simple, yet highly controversial hashtag became the forefront of NFL protests Sunday night. More than 100 players on various teams decided to kneel during the national anthem before their big games, but why? And where did this come from?
13 months ago, Colin Kaepernick began to sit on the bench during the national anthem. His actions went seemingly unnoticed until he decided to start kneeling, marking the beginning of his protest. Kaepernick’s reasons for doing so were clear: police brutality and racial inequality.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave, and getting away with murder.”
But that was in 2016, so why is this suddenly gaining momentum again now? Like most trending topics, social media is to blame. On Friday, President Donald Trump spoke on NFL protests during a rally in Alabama. His stance was very clear: players who chose to kneel and disrespect the flag should be fired. The president took to Twitter to further share his beliefs, sparking a mixed, yet passionate response from Twitter users and celebrities alike.
“Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy,” President Trump said in a tweet Sunday.
Although there may be no clear right or wrong answer to the situation, he is correct that there are no rules in the NFL stating that players are required to stand. It is strongly encouraged, but not in the official rulebook. However, this “proper” conduct is outlined in the game operations manual.
The biggest controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem involved our country’s flag. Many NFL fans believe that participating players’ actions are blatant acts of disrespect towards our flag, country and the servicemen and women fighting to protect it.
“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” President Trump said in a tweet on Monday. “It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem.”
On the other side, people are arguing that these players are simply acting upon their right to freedom of speech and peaceful protest, as outlined by the First Amendment. USA Today explains this viewpoint by saying that the sacrifices made by the United States military would lose meaning if citizens didn’t exercise the rights servicemen and women risk their lives protecting.
Despite the White House and many fans relating the protests to the American flag, Kaepernick started his kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 as a way to highlight and bring attention to race issues in the United States. NFL players and teams, like the Seattle Seahawks who skipped the anthem on Sunday, are continuing to reassure fans that this fight continues to be about racial injustice, not a jab at the national anthem itself.
“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country,” the Seahawks said in a statement. “Out of love for this country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.”
Above all, this weekend’s events have raised one very important question: do politics have a place in sports? A lot of grey area still surrounds the controversy of the NFL protests and no clear solution has emerged. Until the issues in America that are motivating these protests are addressed, or regulations and rules are put into place in the NFL, these protests will likely continue.