The President of the United States thinks people should lose their jobs for standing up — or in this case, choosing not to stand — for what they believe in. This past weekend, after rescinding an invitation to NBA player Stephen Curry, and his championship Golden State Warriors to visit the white house (though Curry had already turned down the invitation), Trump delivered a speech in which he called any NFL player who does not stand for the national anthem a “son of a b****” and suggested that those players be removed from the field. The U.S. president reiterated his opinion in a tweet early Sunday morning, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” He followed up about half an hour later with, “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
The twitter tirade was met with criticism and praise in seemingly equal parts, but none so clear as the response of the players themselves. The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens, who were playing at Wembley stadium in London met on Sunday. Dozens of players opted to kneel together as the U.S. national anthem played, rather than standing. Players from other teams opted not to take the field at all. The Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks played in Nashville, but neither team was on the field as the anthem played. It has also been reported that all but one player from the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to remain in the locker room as well. The player who did take the field, Alejandro Villanueva, now has the highest jersey sales in the league, according to report by CNN.
The Los Angeles Times estimated that at least 100 players chose not to stand. And it’s spreading. Major League Baseball has now seen it’s first player take a knee for the national anthem. I’m sure more will follow.
“Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag — we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” tweeted Trump later Sunday afternoon. Clearly to him, and to many Americans, kneeling during the national anthem is akin to an act of treason. But what does it really mean?
“A movement started by one man who was angry he got benched by NFL team [sic] shouldn’t define what this nation is. We’re better than that!”, said Wayne Dupree, a U.S. radio show host and republican, in a tweet Sunday evening. The tweet also contained a graphic which stated, “I stand for the National Anthem” with the American flag as a background. His opinion is clearly shared by many.
But this isn’t about football. It’s not about sports at all. Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest racism and the murder of black people by cops in U.S. streets. The players who knelt on Sunday send the same message: racism is unacceptable in the land of the free. The point of all of this was to start a long overdue conversation about systemic racism in America. How did it become the responsibility of the NFL to police their players’ rights to protest? In fact, when did anyone’s right to non-violent protest start needing policing?
Racism has long been a dividing factor in the U.S., as well as in Canada. When it comes to people of colour, the narrative is often shifted to criminal behaviour rather than peaceful protest. While Trump calls those attending a Nazi rally in which people were run down with a car “some very fine people,” those who take a knee during the national anthem, hurting no one, are called a “son of a b****.” Black Lives Matter protesters are attacked by police and arrested, while police officers are acquitted of all charges after they are caught on camera murdering unarmed black people. A police officer in Georgia told a woman not to worry because she wasn’t black and they only kill black people.
While many criticized Kaepernick when he began his protest, it seems the many are on his side now. The conversation has begun. It’s the responsibility of the people of all democratic countries to hold their government, their laws, and their country accountable for their actions. Celebrities like professional athletes have a unique platform from which perform that responsibility. Is there too much politics in sports? I say there’s not enough. Keep protesting. Others will heed your example.
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