What started out as the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality has quickly escalated into a much wider and deeper movement among athletes.
The movement started last year when Kaepernick decided to sit down during the national anthem in August. After the action was repeated two more times, Kaepernick gained the attention of the nation. As awareness of the cause grew, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid said he felt convicted to join the fight for social justice. Reid wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times and in it said that the two players spoke at length over fighting systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system while still showing respect.
“After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired green beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. 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,” Reid said.
The protest in 2016 got backlash immediately, but it wasn’t until recently that the movement reached its current heights of controversy. In his campaign, President Donald Trump condemned the players’ actions. He continues to speak against the movement today. According to USA Today, Trump made a statement last month suggesting that teams should punish players who protest and fans should boycott the league.
“The movement was in response to Kaepernick, and then Trump said something at a rally a couple weeks ago. Now they are saying that they will not stand for Trump and the America that Trump represents,” Sean Kenney, a sophomore rugby player, said. “Under Kaepernick, the movement was for Black Lives Matter, but now it has blown up into such a bigger issue that has gotten out of hand.”
What started out as an two individuals has now transitioned into whole teams protesting or avoiding the national anthem altogether. The Pittsburgh Steelers decided to avoid the field altogether in Chicago and stayed in the locker room until the national anthem was over. The Golden State Warriors took a pivotal step in increasing the gap between players and the national government when they decided not to attend the White House after Trump withdrew his invitation to Steph Curry, according to the official NBA website.
“In lieu of a visit to the White House,” the team announced, “we have decided that we’ll constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.”
With recent events surrounding the Golden State Warriors and the Pittsburgh Steelers, some wonder if the movement of oppression and justice for people of color has lost sight of its original goal and is now focused more on the direction the U.S. is going under the current leadership.
According to Bleacher Report, “One of the more unusual forms of protest came from Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, who didn’t kneel or even stay seated during the anthem. McCoy ignored the song altogether and decided instead to stretch. It was an aggressive-aggressive way to make his feelings about what Trump said known, and the indifference riled some people up.”
John Brown University students acknowledge and are sympathetic towards the injustices in today’s society, but they also call for a different means of protest and action.
“I believe that, regardless of what is happening in America in today’s day and age, a lot of people have sacrificed their lives to give the freedom that we have, and we need to respect that. Whether we agree with current issues, we can’t lose sight of that,” Benjamin Smith, power forward on the men’s basketball team, said.
“There’s other things you can do besides kneeling for the flag that shows that you don’t tolerate what is going on,” Kenney said. For instance, “Chris Long, the defensive end for the Eagles, is donating his first six paychecks to college students in Charlottesville and giving them scholarships,” Kenney pointed out.