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NFL Players and President Trump Differ Over National Anthem

by Sanders Jett-Folk

NFL football players have recently been taking a knee during the national anthem at NFL games to protest the words of President Donald Trump.

The action of protest was brought to light by former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem at his team’s final preseason game on September 1st, 2016. [1] In doing this, he said was protesting police brutality. In a post-game interview in August 26th 2016, where he sat during the national anthem to little national attention, he 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. 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.” [2]

A massive increase in these protests have recently occurred as a result of President Donald Trump going after NFL national anthem protesters. On a campaign rally in Alabama on September 23rd, he said that if NFL players want to protest the national anthem, then NFL executives should “Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired.” [3]

Later that day, he followed his comments up on Twitter by posting in two tweets that, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” [4][5]

Trump’s display of seemingly forced nationalism sparked a series of protests within the NFL. At NFL games on September 24th, many teams protested the national anthem. Almost all members of the Pittsburgh, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem. Nearly all members of the Oakland Raiders sat or took a knee during the national anthem. Many members of the Washington Redskins took a knee and locked arms with each other during the anthem in protest. And that’s only a small percentage of the people that protested during NFL games this past Sunday. [6]

Many NFL players explained why they took a knee during the national anthem and their meaning is quite different than the reasoning behind Kaepernick’s original protest.

Miami Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas, who took a knee during the anthem with three of his teammates, said during an interview with The New York Times that “To have the President trying to intimidate people – I wanted to send a message that I don’t condone that. I’m not okay with somebody trying to prevent someone for standing up for what they think is important. Lots of people don’t have a voice, and I wanted to tell these folks that they’re not alone. I used my position to try to empower everybody who seeks equality.” [6]

In an interview with ESPN, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said “I find that very alarming…[Trump] is the same guy who couldn’t condemn violent neo-Nazis but he’s condemning guys that are taking a knee during the national anthem.” [7]

The public relations team for the Seattle Seahawks posted a lengthy statement on Twitter the day before their in-game protest in which they said “As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem. We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.” [8]

WHS students and staff mostly seem to agree with the protests by the NFL players.

History teacher Jamie Skena said “Every single player, kneeling, standing, sitting, linking arms, whatever, is protected by the First Amendment and has every right to express himself how he sees fit. What so many Americans seem to lack right now is the ability to listen to people with different opinions and not personally attack them. We need to be bold enough to try and understand where people are coming from instead of closing ourselves off from different perspectives.”

Junior Logan Guenther was indifferent to the protests. He commented “From what I’ve seen, it seems like it was an overreaction. The kneeling seems like it’s an even greater sign of respect for the flag, but I guess that’s just my opinion. It feels like people are looking for just about anything to attack Trump on these days because it gets so much attention, and it’s genuinely worn me out.”

Media specialist Cindy Dogget commented “When Colin Kaepernick first kneeled last year, at first I was offended. Then, I read about why he was kneeling, and that he was backing up that action with support of programs that support black youth. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it is his right as a citizen to protest when he sees an inequality. So I support the players who kneeled and/or linked arms [on Sunday]. I would like to see change come from this non-violent protest.”

Protests will likely continue in future NFL games, as President Trump has used Twitter to continue his attacks on NFL players who protest the national anthem, including a tweet from early Tuesday morning where he said “The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas [Cowboys] team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.” [9]

Despite the words of President Trump, NFL players are standing their ground to fight for their freedom of speech and against inequality in America through non-violent protests that are bringing national attention to the issues that they are bringing to light.