By Tyler Bauer
One Man Kneels, and a Conversation Starts
About two years ago, a seemingly random act of free expression sparked a media firestorm that still rages to this day. In the 2016 NFL preseason, then-49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled for the national anthem. Kaepernick kneeled for political reasons, citing mistreatment of African-Americans and other minority groups in America. Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
If you’ve followed this story at all, you know that Kaepernick’s protest was not well-received by everybody. Seemingly every sports reporter immediately began to discuss this issue. You probably talked about it with your family while you were watching football on Thanksgiving. Heck, even President Trump commented on the national anthem protests.
In a sign of solidarity with Kaepernick, many NFL players decided to kneel in the future. Others kneeled for their own political reasons, usually in agreement with Kaepernick’s stance on mistreatment of minorities. Naturally, this only amplified the media coverage on this issue.
Fans and the NFL React
As Isaac Newton taught us, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The NFL has suffered a bit as a result of this issue (and because the NFL can’t decide what a catch is). NFL viewership has fallen considerably, and most former viewers have cited national anthem protests as the reason for their abandonment of the NFL.
Obviously, a drop in viewership is bad for the NFL (or any TV-based business, for that matter). So, the NFL wanted to quiet the controversy around the protests. To do so, the NFL instituted new rules this year. Under new NFL rules, players and personnel can decide whether they wish to be on the field for the playing of the national anthem. Those who are on the field are required to stand for the national anthem, and anyone who does not stand is subject to a fine and a suspension.
First, why did NFL Players Stand for the National Anthem?
Funny you should ask. Before 2009, the NFL and its teams had no unified national anthem policy. Beginning in 2009, the NFL “encouraged” teams and players to stand on the field for the national anthem. Coincidentally, the Department of Defense was giving the NFL loads of money around this time and was still giving the NFL money in 2015. Let me be clear – it can’t be proven that the Department of Defense paid the NFL to have players stand for the national anthem, but it certainly looks that way.
My Stance on Kneeling for the National Anthem
I’m perfectly fine with people – athletes or otherwise – kneeling (or raising a fist, or whatever form of peaceful protest you choose) during the national anthem. What we’re talking about in the national anthem is a song. Sure, you may assign significance to it because it’s our country’s song, but it’s a song nonetheless. Opponents of these protests have to realize that the significance of the national anthem is entirely subjective – not everyone feels the same way about the national anthem. Likewise, supporters of protesters – and the protesters themselves – need to understand that not everyone sees things their way.
My Stance on the NFL’s New Rules
The NFL has every right to have whatever rules it wants. It is a private entity, after all, so I don’t think the NFL should be forced to do anything. I’m not a fan of the new NFL national anthem policy. While players are NFL employees and the NFL therefore has the right to punish them for certain actions, I’m saddened to see that the NFL is taking players’ individuality away. However, I understand that individuality won’t bring formers fans back on Sundays, so the new policy at least makes sense.
Honestly, this shouldn’t even be an issue. If anything, we should be talking about why the players are kneeling, rather than who is kneeling. If we want to move past this, we need to have an open discussion on why players are kneeling. Until then, each side of the debate will continue to yell at the other.