Why National Anthem Protests Matter and You Should Care
By Eric Margolin
On the field, the NFL is a predominantly minority dominated league. Around 75% of current NFL players are minorities, and the number of minority coaches has been steadily rising in recent years. This should come as no surprise to anyone who watches the NFL. While one would expect this to result in a more tolerant society (as 77% of NFL fans are white), the issues that plague the African-American community have been glossed over in the past by the league and its players, until Colin Kaepernick’s infamous kneel. Despite constant criticism from fans and some players, Kaepernick knelt all of last season during the national anthem in order to protest racial inequality in America and donated one million dollars to charities benefiting low income communities to show his commitment to his cause. These protests were limited throughout last season and the first two weeks of this season, until President Trump decided to weigh in on the issue. At a rally on September 29th Trump said, (in reference to anyone kneeling or protesting during the national anthem) “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” He continued by sending out two tweets on the issue, doubling down on his previous comments. While this may appeal to his political base, NFL players, the NFLPA, and many team owners disagreed with Trump’s stance. Every team in the NFL had at least one protesting member this week, a major jump from the limited Kaepernick inspired protests last season. This show of unity among players against the commander in chief is unprecedented in the NFL. It yet again proves the power of the NFL, and all major sports leagues, in bringing complex social issues to the foreground of discussion.
Professional athletes are constantly put on a pedestal. Despite the athletes’ often restated sentiment “I am not a role model”, more people watch the NFL than live in 45 of the 50 states. NFL players are constantly under a microscope, and every decision they make can have major social ramifications. People idolize athletes, it’s that simple. Most kids want to dunk like Lebron or score touchdowns like Antonio Brown. To see one of these heroes kneeling for the national anthem, may spark anger in some, but also helps start a conversation about the reason for their protests.
NFL players aren’t sitting out the anthem because they hate the United States. They aren’t sitting out because they don’t respect all that the armed services have sacrificed to keep our nation safe. They are kneeling because they feel the need to use the freedoms the armed services protect. Players have the right to free speech, and they want to use that to bring the issue of racial inequality to the foreground. It is their right to do so, and people who say differently seem to be unwilling to respect their fellow Americans’ rights. The first amendment of the Constitution applies to all American citizens, even if you disagree with their opinions. By expressing his first amendment right to protest peacefully, Colin Kaepernick started a revolution, Donald Trump added wood to the fire of social change, and everyone should accept the fact that change will come. But until then, #takeaknee.
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