Like so many of you, I was appalled at the President’s recent comments about the “taking of the knee” by some of the NFL players in support of Colin Kaepernick’s stance against police brutality. Trump’s reference to these players as “SOB’s” and that they should be fired was in a word, inappropriate. His statement reinforces the concern of a great many people of color that there is a wide divide between those living on the hill and those in the inner city. The President labeled these men kneeling as disrespecting the flag, the military, and the police. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I believe a little history about our flag and the anthem should be clarified to help better understand all the commotion that is occurring in the country on what is believed to be politically correct. The custom of standing for the national anthem dates to 1891, when graduates at West Point were encouraged to stand during their graduation ceremony for a song formerly known as, “The Defense of Fort McHenry” and it later became known as, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Keep in mind, that this formality though encouraged, was not mandated. During the 1918 Baseball World Series, when it became known that members of the military would be listening to the game, the crowd rose during the playing of the song. World War I was ending, and they wanted to send a message of support for those in the service via the radio. Actually, standing for the anthem became a ritual in sports first for Major League Baseball. Football, on the other hand, never had this tradition. The Star-Spangled Banner was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.
Prior to 2009, teams in the National Football League inherently stayed in their respective locker rooms during the playing of the national anthem. That same year, Brian McCarthy, spokesman for the NFL, stated, “the NFL has a long tradition of patriotism. Players are encouraged, but not required to stand in ceremony.” There is some speculation that the practice of standing during the anthem was highly influenced financially by the military. In a nutshell, the armed forces secured a lot of air time during the commercial breaks.
Now let’s fast forward it to today with the issue of standing, kneeling, or staying in the locker room when the national anthem is being played with the NFL. It all started when Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose not to stand during the anthem to bring attention to police brutality in the black community. The intent was that kneeling would raise the question of “why” and could create a meaningful dialogue. In the beginning, the solidarity amongst the players initially was sporadic—some took a knee while others were worried that it would jeopardize their contracts. However, when Donald Trump made those derogatory comments about their character, it was a clear call for unity that could not be ignored. The same unity that occurred when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a knee in Selma, or when Muhammad Ali chose not to fight in the Vietnam War and they took away his championship title, or when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the air at the 1968 Summer Olympics in protest of lynching. That following Sunday, after Trump’s divisive comments, all 32 teams demonstrated by taking a knee and/or locking arms in solidity during the playing of the national anthem. The show of unity and defiance of these players reminded us of those silent protests almost 50 years ago.
I personally feel that the show of solidarity was directed more towards the comments of the President by sending him the message not to tamper with the NFL shield. The ownership of the league takes pride in the product they put on the field on game day and to infer that they needed direction on how to manage their players was offensive. So, the owners decided to “stick it” to Donald Trump with the message, “stay in your lane.” My concern is that the “taking of the knee” in the first place by Colin Kaepernick is being lost in the narrative of political correctness of standing vs. kneeling. At this late date, African Americans are still being shot and killed by the police with no ramifications and Kaepernick is still without a job. And to put this issue into another context—let’s trade places with the players. If you believe it is important that they stand when the anthem is played, then you, too, should stand at that time regardless if you are at home or at a local sports bar. Recognize the anthem and take part in the ceremony. And if you don’t choose to do so at that time, then you can’t judge those on the field for what they feel is right for them. The 1st Amendment gives us all a choice and without a choice we might as well be living in Nazi Germany in 1936. But we live in America where we have choices, let us honor that privilege.