Although many Americans, including Derek Wolfe of the Denver Broncos and President Trump, continue to misunderstand the phenomenon, more NFL players than ever before are taking a knee during the national anthem as a form of protest against racial injustice.
Taking a knee is now and always has been a peaceful protest. It has never intended to display the perceived disrespect toward military servicemen and women that is creating such controversy around the gesture.
Players who choose to take a knee during the anthem have every right to do so.
As every true American knows, the only way to form a more perfect union is to admit when something is wrong and have the courage to work toward a solution rather than ignoring or abandoning the situation.
It all began in the early weeks of the NFL’s 2016 preseason games with Colin Kaepernick, who began his tenure as the league’s most controversial player when he took a stand against the oppression of black people in America by taking a knee during the national anthem.
Kaepernick made his position clear during a public media conference. He said, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
He was also careful to clarify his support of the U.S. military by saying that “they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone.” He chose to sit, he said, because that equality of liberty and justice was “not happening.”
This past year, taking a seat became taking a knee, and the NFL has become nearly as much an arena for politics as it is for sports.
To those who rail against the politicization of an entertainment form traditionally used for escape: Stop.
Celebrity status of the kind that NFL players acquire does not bar them from exercising their right to free speech. In fact, it does quite the opposite. We continually call upon people with public platforms to use their power for good, and that is exactly what the kneeling players are doing.
It is shameful that Kaepernick is so demonized for his actions as to be barred from employment in the league, when so many other players who are guilty of real crimes like domestic abuse, sexual assault and other offenses remain active.
Think about the statement this makes. Free speech against our country’s lethally oppressive race issues is more incriminating than sexual and relationship violence.
And before you hold up Ray Rice as a counterexample, spare me. One prominent player fired as a symbolic statement does not equate a comprehensive and adequate policy. As 2017 draft choices show, the league is still not taking a sufficient stand against such issues.
I can hardly offer a clearer picture of ignorance than NFL owners, players and fans — supported by no less than the president of the United States — who continue to reinforce the very same damaging power structures that players like Kaepernick protest.
Rather than punish those who choose to do the right thing, we should choose instead to do the right thing ourselves.
We should show solidarity in any way we can with those whom racism oppresses and by working to effect positive change.
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