The ignored meaning of athletes’ protests

A look into and an explanation about the disapproval that athletes feel towards their country

As it’s widely known by now, a majority of NFL athletes have decided to kneel in protest during the American national anthem. While some NHL and MLB players have joined their NFL counterparts, these protests have predominantly come from NFL athletes. 

In the most recent statement against these athletes, VP Mike Pence attended the Indianapolis Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers game and left because of the players’ continued protest. Following this, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that a player on his team that kneels during the anthem will be benched. 

In today’s society, it’s important to remember that there’s a message and a method in every protest. 

People seem to be so caught up in the aspect of these players ‘disrespecting’ the flag that they ignore the true message behind the actual protests. 

One thing is clear through all of this — the players’ intent actually isn’t to disrespect the flag. By kneeling, they’re emphasizing the racial inequalities that exist within America. Rather than focusing on which athletes actually choose to kneel and which don’t, it’s important that we pay more attention to their message.

While somewhat self-explanatory, the critic’s problems are much smaller because if NFL players decide to stand for the anthem, their issue with the demonstration goes away. By being focused on who is standing rather than why they are, both sides have become further divided. 

From the player point of view, if they stand for the anthem, not only does their problem not go away, but it comes silenced. 

Just because someone is in a high earning bracket doesn’t mean they should lose their political voice or their problems should be dismissed. Rather, they’re still an autonomous being that faces some of the country’s biggest issues. 

A key controversy regarding these protests is that players are at risk of punishment for kneeling during the anthem. This punishment seems to be based off the players’ method of communicating their disapproval towards the nation. Whether or not one agrees with the message being conveyed, people can’t argue that the method is undeniably peaceful. Because of this, kneeling shouldn’t end in suspension or a loss of pay. 

Keeping this in mind, it’s interesting to note how the Cowboys kneeled before the anthem in a sign of unity and stood during the actual playing of the anthem yet they still faced backlash. This demonstrates the punishment being attributed to the method, while no one mentions the message. 

Significantly as well, until 2009 NFL players used to be in the locker room during the national anthem. I find it far from likely that most players were standing in the locker room while the national anthem was playing. It appears that as something is out of sight, it actually is out of mind. 

It’s understandable why some people get uncomfortable talking about a sensitive topic such as racial inequality. However, this doesn’t bestow the right to silence the dialect.

While the NFL players may be the most recognized for their activism, this trend has only gained steam in other sporting leagues.

When looking at other sports leagues, there hasn’t been uniform action taken across the athletic world. The NBA and NHL for example, have shown various responses.

For example, the Golden State Warriors of the NBA have said they won’t be attending the White House visit. This meeting — for major professional sports — is a long-held tradition for a championship team. Despite their decision to decline, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has noted that while players won’t be allowed to kneel during the anthem, he has preached togetherness and unification.

Perhaps Silver recognizes that the controversy surrounding protesting the anthem has overwhelmed the message. In the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman, mentioned there will be no tolerance for players that kneel during the anthem. Players have instead opted to raise a closed fist, which is in some respects an ode to 

Colin Kaepernick — the man who started it all.  

The critics of the protests have managed to make the entire message of the players disappear and focus solely on the method through which they chose to convey their beliefs.

If this provocation of sensitive dialogue can’t occur, the issue will never be solved. There has yet to be high profile cases of sponsorships backing out of deals with players who kneel. However, it is well recognized that NFL owners have been colluding to not sign Kaepernick.

These protests have successfully kicked a well-deserving player out of the league. No protest, however, will be easy. After all, a man who kneels for nothing will fall for anything.

Max Samuels is a third-year Politics major.

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