The national anthem protests demonstrated by players using their platform on the NFL gridiron are protests against racial injustice, not the flag or military. I'd argue that if civil rights activists, including athletes like Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, watched the NFL now, they'd applaud these patriotic men.
By Vinny Lavalsiti
Editor, The Summit newspaper, Grossmont College
Photo: Washington Redskins players kneeling in game against Oakland Raiders; cc by Keith Allison
October 11, 2017 (San Diego) -- When sports collide with politics, it's a beautiful thing to see. Well, for me at least. I do realize that there are the average Joes out there with their beer helmets who like to sit in their recliner for eight hours and watch nothing but football. I’ve been there! But please keep an open mind when reading the following.
Last month, Sept. 24, the majority of the NFL, from players to billionaire owners, partook in an expression of unity by kneeling, sitting, locking arms or staying in the locker room during the national anthem. The only team to refrain from demonstrating during the anthem was the Dallas Cowboys. They did kneel before, then rose when the anthem started, but why did they do this? How dare they not respect the national anthem? Because, to put a twist on the Pledge of Allegiance, liberty and justice is not for all.
This was in response to two issues. One is racial injustice and police brutality towards minorities. The other, and preeminent point of emphasis of the anthem demonstrations, was toward President Donald Trump’s comments in Alabama, when he addressed the situation of NFL players kneeling during the anthem, which seemed to many that the players were disrespecting the flag and troops. Trump belted out the latest of his bold utterances, “Get those sons of b****** off the field! They’re fired!”
Trump used this discriminatory language and called for their bosses, the owners, to suppress NFL players of the expression of their rights and civil liberties which are endowed in the first amendment of our Constitution.
What good do these comments do? Do they make any headway? Do they solve any problems? No, they are crude and should not be uttered out of the mouth of any public official, let alone a president. It should be clear that this not an anti-American protest; it is a very American protest. Despite “the disrespecting of the American flag” remark, NFL players are fighting for equal rights, which is very much so an American value.
Some might say, “Well the President has as much of a freedom of speech as every other citizen." Yes, very true! But when you represent the public opinion of approximately 323 million people in the United States, there needs to be a filter, perhaps without profanity.
Prior to Trump’s comments, the majority of kneeling players were doing so to express their displeasure of law enforcement brutality and racism in the United States.
Along with that, Trump unleashed a fury of petty tweets, a couple towards the 2x NBA Finals Champion of the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry. Curry is one of the most universally-loved athletes across the globe and after he stated his intention to not attend the White House visit, which championship professional teams typically do, Trump took exception. After Curry said he didn’t plan on attending, Trump responded by tweeting “Curry is hesitant, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
This condemnation, with words I’d never expect to hear from the president until the day I was six feet under, is in itself an infringement on those rights of expression. When the leader of a country is berating someone’s expression of civil liberties, the question of “Who is next?” arises. No matter how unpopular the speech may be, unpopular speech is what needs protection most by the government and that is being discredited here.
Also, it raises the question, “Isn’t this below the office of the presidency?” And rightfully so. Shouldn’t the president have other things to worry about other than attacking professional athletes over Twitter?
This is in fact a culture war. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but the majority of support for the NFL kneelers is from the younger generation and minorities, and the majority of backlash and discontent has been from white males.
That backlash has largely centered around the idea that the NFL community is “disrespecting the flag and our troops.” This is where the problem of that argument is rooted. The symbolism of the American flag representing the troops and nothing but the troops is a fallacy, and that’s what has transpired over the past several decades; the image of the American flag has been so conflated to only symbolizing one aspect of our country, and that’s the men and women in our armed services. There needs to be a realization that the flag represents much more than the military. It represents you, me, everyone at Grossmont College and the government of the United States among other things. NFL players in the demonstration have stated multiple times that this was not meant to attack those fighting for our freedom overseas. One has to look at the situation from this aspect as well; didn’t those patriots serving in the military fight for the patriots on the gridiron to express their freedoms?
Another common complaint is that players shouldn’t be expressing their freedoms of speech and assembly on the job. This argument should be disbanded too. If you have the platform that these players have, broadcasted nationally on TV in millions of homes across America and other countries, why not try to prove a point? And when you have division in the country, and you have the platform that these players have, why not make a statement? I’ll tell you why people would say they shouldn’t. They are uncomfortable with others being bold and calling for a united change.
Let’s turn back the clock about a year and a half when Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback, shocked the world by being the first NFL player and athlete to kneel during the national anthem. Kaepernick’s sole purpose was to express his displeasure of racial injustice and of law enforcement killing unarmed African Americans in the United States. If you’re truly passionate about an issue, is there a better way to bring attention to it than on a nationally televised game where everybody will see it? Whether it is a controversial display or not, the public is becoming “aware” of the problem in America. I'd argue that if civil rights activists, including athletes like Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, watched the NFL now, they'd applaud these patriotic men.
Look at past civil rights and social activist movements. The Montgomery bus boycotts, the Freedom Riders and the Little Rock High School desegregation were all seen as controversial by the community. Of course, these movements were far more drastic in civil rights protest than NFLers kneeling during the anthem, but they serve the same meaning.
Amid the protests prior to Trump’s spectacle in Alabama, players were protesting racial injustice from law enforcement, in particular. Players of the Cleveland Browns were playing a huge role in these demonstrations, so huge that the Cleveland Police Department got involved. In what seems to be a hypocritical move, Steve Loomis, the chief of the Cleveland Police Department, announced that due to the protests, the police department wouldn’t take part in the flag-bearing ceremony. Leonard Pettis Jr. of The Seattle Times put it best about the questioning from the Cleveland Police Department and many others who object to the kneeling:
“How dare they not put a hand to their hearts? (But America steals from us, then tells us we’re thieves.)
“How dare they not well up with patriotic pride? (But America lies to us, then pretends to be fair.)
“How dare they question America? (But Tamir Rice. But Philando Castile and Freddie Gray. But Walter Scott and Levar Jones. But Charleston. But Charlottesville.)
“How dare they? America asks that question, but it never wants the answer.”
Now, I’ll give those against the NFL kneeler protests this: if NFL players truly wanted to make a statement with their fight against Trump’s remarks and racial inequality, then bring the peaceful demonstrations outside of the stadium while keeping them in. Go to the state capitol buildings, go to D.C., go to national landmarks and express your views to show the public that you are truly passionate about these issues. Also, I agree with that there should be places and events in society where we are free of politics and the division that may be created by it. This enhances our cooperation with others and progresses our nation as a whole. Yet, I am a firm believer in that when something needs to be said, say it, and do whatever it takes for people to hear what you have to say as long as you are not harming others.
The gripe I have with the kneelers is that it took this long to speak out and it took for a president to use obscene words to collectively gather. Of course, there will still be those in the NFL who don’t agree with the kneeling, which is understood. During all of the action this past month, an image went viral of Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva went out of the locker room and stood in the tunnel saluting the American flag while his team remained in the locker room to conduct their demonstration. At least to my standards, when you’re a former graduate from West Point and an Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, you can basically do anything you want and it’d be fine by me. Obviously, the flag represents something different to him than it does to other people and that shows as his jersey is the top selling in the United States since Sunday. Colin Kaepernick’s jersey is not far behind, I might add. Kaepernick has also been a free agent since the end of last season, so he’s not playing.
We’ve seen this kneeling-during-anthem expression cross over to other professional sports. Just recently, Oakland Athletics catcher, Bruce Maxwell, became the first MLB player to demonstrate the aforementioned displeasures with government, and just imagine, how moving (or disrupting depending on who I am talking to) of a scene would it be to see athletes on their podiums at the Olympics making a demonstration while being showered with roses and their nation’s anthem. It would be reminiscent of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City where American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos conducted their Black Power salute.
What’s next for the NFL demonstrations? Well I predict that they slowly fade away, at least the collective ones against Trump’s comments. The reaction to Trump’s cursing and condemning have already been made. The opposition has made their resounding voice heard which will influence some owners to prohibit any further demonstrations against Trump’s remarks, I presume.
Just recently, Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones made his feelings on the topic known: “If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” said Jones, after the Cowboys’ 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Will Jones follow through on this if his stars – quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott or wide receiver Dez Bryant – decide to kneel during the anthem? By referencing past team-related issues, it will be Jones’ way or the highway. Labor unions have filed complaints, stating that Jones has violated the National Relations Labor Act. Is Jones even allowed to do this? Well, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be rather complacent on Jones’ new policy, so it looks like it will go uncontested. Keep an eye on those five minutes before kickoff, however— it will be an interesting scenario if kneeling takes place in Dallas.
As we can see, the flag is interpreted differently by many people and they have a right to those interpretations.
I’d like to see more join in on the demonstration to stand for the original message of kneeling: racial injustice/inequality and the fight against police brutality.
Football, the fight for equality, and the First Amendment in action: How much more American can you get?
The views in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.