Last September, quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem. Amid a flurry of criticisms asserting that his action was un-American, he stated that he could not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” (CNN) He specifically cited the issue of police brutality as a prominent motivation for his action.
The practice of kneeling in protest can be traced back to MLK Jr., who would often do so before marches or rallies. The gesture itself is a respectful one, often used by soldiers, and was deliberately chosen because of its history and meaning. Eric Reid, who took a knee alongside the Kaepernick, stated in a NYT editorial that, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” Since last fall, athletes have repeatedly protested in the same manner, igniting a debate regarding the role of athletes, protest, and race relations in America.
More recently, President Trump called on NFL owners to fire any players who chose to “disrespect our flag” by sitting or kneeling during the anthem, referring to protesters as “sons of *****s” during an Alabama rally. The comment was quickly condemned by many politicians, players, and citizens alike, leading to larger protests during Sunday football games. Dozens of athletes kneeled or locked arms during the national anthem, with some teams even staying in their locker rooms while it was played. In solidarity with the NFL players, celebrities Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters, Dave Matthews and Pharrell Williams also took a knee on stage.
However, the reason for the demonstrations is becoming increasingly obscured as they are put into terms of Trump. By rebranding the act of taking a knee as anti-Trump, its original purpose of calling attention to racial injustice in America is lost. NFL owners can avoid discussing race by condemning Trump’s words as divisive or disrespectful without acknowledging that there were targeted at African-American athletes. A recent statement from the President on the topic also seeks to blur this line, claiming that “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.” While they were in response to Trump’s harsh comment, Sunday’s demonstrations of solidarity should not be interpreted as nothing more than another anti-Trump action. If they are, we run the risk of forgetting their greater mission as protests against police brutality and racism.
In a time when the president picks fights with the NFL, we urge you to remember the original meaning of Kaepernick’s protest and continue fighting for racial justice. For more information and opportunities to get involved, visit http://blacklivesmatter.com/getinvolved/ and http://www.naacp.org/find-local-unit/ or follow https://www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatter/ on Facebook.
Written by Sam, and SJPJC Intern.