Taking A Knee in the National Football League: What It Means For 2018

A new NFL season is here, and with it brings to center stage the national movement started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick

James Rudolph

More than two years have gone by since Colin Kaepernick first began his public protest police brutality, and the fire is still going. What began as one player’s personal protest during the national anthem for the 49ers and Packers on Aug. 14, 2016 has become one of the hottest household conversation pieces. Within that time, we have seen hundreds of players take a knee at such a prevalent rate that it drew the ire of President Trump. The question is now, as we get ready for the 2018 season to begin, what are we to expect from the players? 

   Kaepernick said he began the protests to fight police brutality and racial injustice across the country. He and 49ers teammate Eric Reid said the kneeling was a respectful gesture, similar to flying the flag at half-mast during times of tragedy. However, some feel that kneeling is disrespectful to those who have died for their country, as they feel the national anthem honors  U.S service members. In 2016, the NFL released a statement which says that players are not required to stand for the national anthem. Its game operations manual states that players “should stand” for the anthem but isn’t required. 

   After an interview on Aug 26, 2016, Kaepernick pledged to donate $1 million to different organizations that help communities in need and pledged to donate $100,000 per month to different organizations that are involved in spreading awareness and stopping racial injustice. As of September 2017, he has paid over $900,000 to different organizations such as Meals on Wheels, United We Dream, and Black Veterans for Social Justice. The San Francisco 49ers matched Kaepernick’s original pledge and paid $1 million to two different organizations. 

    What started as a protest for social and racial injustice has now become a platform for NFL players to peacefully protest injustice and political changes in America. Across the NFL, players would sit or kneel with teammates, sometimes with linked arms or raised fists, to spread awareness on multiple topics, such as police-brutality and Trump’s policy decisions. During week 3 of the 2017 season, over 200 players engaged in protesting behavior directed towards President Trump. Three teams even refused to exit the locker room during the national anthem, including the Steelers, all except former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva. 

  However, the times are a’ changing as we begin the 2018 season.

   The next few points I am going to make are my subjective observations about people’s attitudes and conversations regarding this topic. 

    The two comments I’ve heard said the most, over the past two years, about the NFL protests have contained nothing about racial inequality or police brutality. What I’ve heard the most are something along the lines of these two statements: “It doesn’t matter, the national anthem is honoring our troops and it is never okay to disrespect them,” and “can’t the players be doing more than just taking a knee?”

   I find the immediate association with the national anthem and military service interesting. I would find it difficult to for anyone else to honor the flag and national anthem more than a United States servicemember (not every specific individual, but in general). But our national anthem represents more than just our military history and prowess. It represents the unyielding will of the American people and to look at our flag as a symbol of hope, something that isn’t concrete and can’t be offended. I get rather upset when we immediately associate our anthem and national pride immediately with our military. Is that the only thing we should be proud of? Is that the only thing we should be proud of, as Americans? I think the average American knows the answer to those questions, and I think U.S. servicemembers are proud to be American’s for more than just their military service. 

   With regards to the question of can players do more than just take a knee, the answer is yes, and they are doing more. Just look at Kaepernick, who pledged nearly $2 million for charity just days after the protests began, and he paid every cent. He has given his own personal time to charity work and even donated his own clothing to the charity 100 Suits for 100 Men. Other players and some NFL teams donated large amounts of money to charities as well. The kneeling is just one aspect to their protests.

   The kneeling itself is symbolic, and humans know the power of symbols. That’s why you get a sensation of pride when you see your country’s flag, or sensation of anger. That’s why the swastika is generally hated across the world. In reality the swastika itself represents nothing. It is an image of a shape that is represented on a flag or paper. It’s what it symbolizes that incites the emotional response we are all familiar with.

  The kneeling symbolically respected those who suffer racial inequality, and symbolically resisted police brutality. Why that simple action of kneeling brings some people to fits of rage is beyond me. What is truly sad about this whole affair is that the NFL players failed to raise the awareness for the average American. 

   Conversations about honoring or dishonoring veterans, or if kneeling is the most appropriate form of protest, shows the attempt to raise awareness of these issues have failed. To Kaepernick and the NFL players taking part in the protest, it was never about how much could you donate to charity, or whether the flag is represented by the actions of the American people, but to focus on the issues of injustice and oppression that are faced by millions of Americans each day, simply because of their ethnicity or background. In this, they failed to make this an issue the average American cares about.

   I would not be surprised to see coverage of protesting players decline, and even see players no longer protesting at all. While individuals like Kaepernick will continue their crusade, I think the appeal for other players has burned out. Most of America are tired of politics and anything related to it, especially as something as disillusioned this has become. With the way American’s and media outlets have warped the message these NFL players are trying to send, I would not be shocked at all to see this effort for social justice, by the NFL, to fade away.