Over the course of the last year, the controversy over Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem before football games has had many responses. Some people are appalled, and some have applauded the former quarterback’s choice to use his prominent platform to raise awareness about police brutality and the injustices people of color in this country face on a daily basis.
While being questioned by NFL Media during an exclusive interview, Kaepernick made his point clear about what message he wanted to send by taking a knee. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
A police chief called the Steelers coach a “no-good nigger” for allowing his players to stay in the locker room during the national anthem. Parents, white players, and referees have called high school students who kneel “niggers.” Trump calls those who kneel “sons of bitches” who should be taken off the field. Cheerleaders have been harassed by local police forces for kneeling. These are all reasons that taking a knee is important.
It’s not about protesting against “America” (America spans Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America) or the flag. It’s about the fact that when people of color want to be respected as human beings by kneeling, the U.S. tells them to shut up. This is 2017, and I love this country enough to demand that this country’s legacy of racism and police brutality not be tolerated. Your silence is privilege. You are using your privilege to allow racism and that’s what this is about. Kaepernick and the players that kneel love this country and respect you enough to believe that you’re better than police brutality and racial oppression.
Respect the sport? Respect the players
There has been a constant thread that those we look up to in entertainment stay out of politics, and the concept has made its way to professional football. Since the beginning of Kaepernick’s quest for dialogue, white people have been telling him to shut up, play football and take his checks. Despite the fact that the tradition of players standing for the national anthem wasn’t really a tradition until 2009, people act like Kaepernick is disrespecting a tradition as old as the country itself. This country likes our entertainers of color but doesn’t respect them enough to care about their opinions. We don’t want to be roped into caring about issues while we watch athletes destroy their bodies for our viewing pleasure.
This adverse reaction to people of color wanting to be respected in this country is nothing new. White audiences listened to black musicians play music in clubs those musicians weren’t allowed to attend for decades during segregation. White people loved the music, but they didn’t love the musicians enough to be intolerant of segregation.
In 1968, Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze medals and raised a black power fist in solidarity with the civil rights struggle and injustice that black people faced in the U.S. while standing for the national anthem on their medal platform. They faced outrage and death threats as a result of their actions. The fact that this country reacts 49 years later the same way as it did then is why Kaepernick spoke out and why it’s important to have this dialogue. The fact that some of you reading this are getting pissed off by what I’m writing is why this is important.
Portland State’s athletic season is underway, and this Saturday, Oct. 14 is the big homecoming game where our Vikings will face the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at Providence Park. According to PSU Athletics Director Valerie Cleary, PSU has no policy to reprimand players who decide not to stand for the national anthem. Cleary explains that this controversy is a potential opportunity for learning and growth and wants players who consider protesting to be prepared to have thoughtful discussions about their choices if asked.
“I would go so far as to challenge them [players who protest] to engage in addressing the core of the issues beyond a knee or a T-shirt and how they will make a difference directly,” Cleary wrote. “We support the rights of students and staff in non-participation of the anthem and other forms of speech that are protected by our school policies and laws of our great nation. Our institution is a marketplace of ideas, and free speech is a treasured right and critical component of learning.”
Despite PSU having policies that protect players’ rights, other college and high school teams across the country have shown a no tolerance policy for players showing solidarity with an issue that for the past half-century this country has failed to be willing to face. When Carlos looks back on his decision to protest by raising a fist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, he expected Peter Norman, the Australian who won the silver medal and stood on the platform with him, to have fear in his eyes, but instead, he remembers seeing love.
Today in these United States of America, we have the powerful opportunity to reject the common reaction our country showed during the struggle 49 years ago with vile hate and disapproval or choose to show love and support for those willing to lose everything to stand against injustice. The choice is yours, America. Kaepernick, Carlos and I all respect you enough to believe that you’re better than the racism and injustice these brave young people are standing against by choosing to kneel.