Bryanna McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor
When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the playing of the national anthem prior to a preseason game on Aug. 14, 2016, he went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.
It took three games for the quarterback’s silent protest for racial equality to garner media attention, infusing ripples of controversy throughout the league as the worlds of sports and politics collided.
Over a year later, the ripples Kaepernick created have turned into a tidal wave, as NFL players across the league knelt, linked arms with another and remained off of the field during the playing of the national anthem during Week 3.
While Kaepernick may no longer be listed on an NFL roster, he is the true winner of this past week’s games as the movement that he began is now more widespread than ever before.
As the movement progressively gained more traction, it also began to garner national headlines after President Donald Trump commented on the protests at an Alabama rally on Friday, saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b***h off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Following Trump’s comments, the #TakeTheKnee initiative was born, with supporters of the movement effectively dominating much of social media for the weekend.
It’s sickening when African-American football players peacefully protest what they deem to be injustice, the president calls them “sons of b****es” and demands for them to be fired, but when white supremacists march through streets wielding Nazi flags and swastikas, the president fails to condemn their actions.
These comments alone validate why players not only have every right to kneel, but need to do so.
Many of the teams and players were met with jeers and shouts of criticism upon taking the field, while online commenters gave their colorful opinions on every available platform.
The consensus among these disgruntled fans was that these acts disrespected the flag and that players were obligated to stand for the anthem or face losing their jobs.
But, last time I checked, there’s no rule in the NFL handbook that says players have to stand. In fact, the word ‘anthem’ can’t be found anywhere in the text, and ‘flag’ is used only once in reference to a coaching challenge.
The national anthem didn’t become a popular pre-game tradition in professional sports until the 1940s when it was initiated to strengthen national pride during World War II, and NFL players remained in the locker room for the anthem playing until 2009.
If you’re worried about disrespecting the flag, take another look at the U.S. Flag Code. In Section 176 of “Respect for Flag” it states: “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” The spreading of the American flag horizontally over the field or among fans is also a tradition at many sporting events, but that’s not considered disrespectful.
The code also says, “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” However, Bud Light — which paid $1.4 billion to be considered the official beer of the NFL — often uses the American flag to advertise its beverages, but that’s not deemed disrespectful by the general public.
Instead of focusing on the kneeling, focus on the reason behind it. Despite what angry Facebook statuses say, it’s not because they hate America. It’s actually the exact opposite.
The players choosing to kneel or protest are doing so because they love this country so much and want to see it change for the better.
People of color have been served great injustices since even before the beginning of this nation. The American flag is supposed to represent equality for all, but that’s not what we’re seeing in this country.
According to data gathered by the Washington Post, African Americans accounted for just 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2016 but made up 24 percent of people fatally shot by police officers. This makes African Americans 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than a white American.
A 2016 meta-analysis by Northwestern University examining hiring bias in the U.S. found that when looking at nearly 56,000 applications for over 26,000 job openings between 1990 and 2015, white applicants received 36 percent more callbacks than black applicants.
Despite black males making up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, roughly 70 percent of NFL players are black.
When these players signed their contracts, they not only were given a spot on an NFL team, they were given a voice. Many of these men came from poverty, saw some of the worst of what America has to offer, and now they have the ability to bring attention to it for those without a platform.
The First Amendment protects both freedom of speech and the right to a peaceful protest. Aren’t these players being as American as it gets by exercising these rights? Is the Constitution not what the U.S. military vows to protect?
Thank you, Colin Kaepernick, for starting this dialogue about modern racism in America. And, don’t worry; Rosa Parks wasn’t always endeared by all, either.
Bryanna McDermott is a senior multiplatform journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.