When First Downs Come Before the First Amendment

Why the national anthem has nothing to do with taking a knee


In 1955, when Rosa Parks sat in the “whites only” section of the bus after a long day of work, she was not making a statement about the transportation system. Similarly, when Colin Kaepernick kneeled during last year’s NFL season, he wasn’t trying to diss the national anthem. In both cases, peaceful protest represented a far greater issue facing the country—racial inequality and discrimination. Time and time again, the players have stressed that the protest is not in disrespect of the anthem.

“This is us, as concerned citizens, trying to play our role in a bigger conversation about race in America,” Malcolm Jenkins,.of the Philadelphia Eagles said. “Many of us have worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement to figure out ways to really move us forward in a better direction, to re-instill trust in our law enforcement and to really hold that accountability and transparency that our communities are looking for.”

Photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders twitter

These players aren’t just taking a knee for publicity; they are actually working behind the scenes to make real change happen. This is a part of the overall problem: the fact that many people don’t recognize that professional athletes are working for real change because the media, especially right-wing media, is more focused on the acts of “defiance” during the anthem.

The problem in our national discourse is separating these issues. Between President Trump’s blatantly bigoted and divisive tweets, the fact that many fans don’t want to mix their sports with politics, especially when they see it as an insult to our military forces, and the NFL’s concern about its multi-billion dollar business, there seems to be little conversation about what this is really all about: racial violence, inequality, and discrimination.

Kaepernick’s boycott of the national anthem began when Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two innocent black men, were shot and killed by white police officers, just one day apart. In Kaepernick’s eyes, these two killings (among many others of blacks by police) were today’s equivalent of what lynchings looked like in America, and he wasn’t going to stay silent about it.

As a black man who grew up as the adopted child of a white family, Kaepernick quickly realized the prevalence of racism in America. “We used to go on these summer driving vacations and stay at motels,” Kaepernick told US magazine in 2015. “And every year, in the lobby of every motel, the same thing always happened, and it only got worse as I got older and taller. It didn’t matter how close I stood to my family, somebody would walk up to me, a real nervous manager, and say: ‘Excuse me. Is there something I can help you with?’”

Kaepernick began a pursuit of knowledge that led him to be one of the most prominent political figures in sports today, according to John Bender, an offensive lineman at Nevada during Kaepernick’s college career. “I saw him transform, develop, whatever you want to call it,” said Bender. “Finding an identity was big for him, because in some aspects in life, he would get the racist treatment from white people because he was a black quarterback. And some people gave him the racist treatment because he was raised by a white family. So where does he fit in in all this?”

Kaepernick’s personal experience as a black man is something Donald Trump will never understand. So when Trump ignores the issues fueling the protests of the flag and singles out athletes who “disrespect the flag” by calling them SOB’s, which appeals to his mostly white base of supporters, he is actually saying that racial violence, inequality, and injustice are issues he has no desire to address. In fact, he’d rather deny they exist at all, even though they have come to define America.           

The NBA has also experienced drama relating to protesting the anthem. The NBA supports its players speaking out on the issues but takes a practical stance when it comes to the national anthem. Commissioner Adam Silver has made it clear that he doesn’t approve of players kneeling during the anthem.

“We have a rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem,” Silver said. “It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.”

Regardless of the anthem, Warriors center Draymond Green believes that the public knows how he and his teammates feel. “We said what we had to say. Everybody knows we don’t need to do anything else to show where we stand…People make what they want out of it,” Green said. “It’s at a point now where everyone knows where the conversation started. It’s about capitalizing on that and making things better…The more you make gestures, that becomes the conversation. That’s besides the point.”

The Warriors, who could have visited the White House as they did in 2015 after winning the title, had their invitation rescinded by the president over Twitter after several players expressed their discontent with the president: “It was an actual chance to talk to the president,” Steve Kerr, Warriors head coach said.

“After all, he works for us. He’s a public servant. So as NBA champions, as people in a prominent position, we could go in and say, ‘This is what’s bothering us, what can we do about this?”

The potential conversation between the Warriors and the president would have been quite enlightening for the president, assuming he could have been willing to listen. Instead, it became a discussion that ended before it even began. This represents at least one theme that has endured throughout Trump’s presidency: he has not been effective in the way he has dealt with social issues, rather, he has exacerbated the issues instead.

No one is surprised that Trump refuses to address issues of racial inequality and racial violence in America. He openly supported the free speech of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, while aggressively condemning the free speech of black athletes. But the first amendment exists for everybody. If a player wants to kneel during the anthem, he or she has every right to do so. And if they want to rise for the anthem, that’s OK too. This conversation isn’t about the national anthem; it’s about bringing awareness to the issues Kaepernick initially knelt for.

Samantha Gilbert

Samantha Gilbert

Samantha is a senior film and media major, feminist and gender studies minor and also a sprinter on CCs track and field team. She fell in love with journalism in highschool and worked as the editor in chief of her high school paper, then wrote for the sports section for 3 years before becoming sports editor this year. In her free time, Samantha loves cooking, creating and connecting. Traveling the world, working on a documentary crew, and constantly striving for holistic health and wellness are things that motivate her everyday. She is inspired by the power of written words, and is currently very curious about the political sports world, as today sports are a platform for political activism more so than ever before.
Samantha Gilbert

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