It’s time to follow in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick and countless others in standing up for equality.
At first, Colin Kaepernick didn’t kneel, he sat. He planted himself firmly on the bench during the playing of the national anthem. It wasn’t until after a meeting with former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer that Kaepernick decided to kneel. Boyer voiced his displeasure to Kaepernick and 49ers’ safety Eric Reid, expressing that kneeling would be more respectful to the flag, the anthem and everything these things represent. With that in mind, Kaepernick, now accompanied by Reid, knelt.
“We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy,” said Reid in a recent piece for the NY Times. In it, Reid reflects on the decision to join Kaepernick, along with the racial and social problems the country continues to face today. If you haven’t already clicked off this page, I ask you to read his article.
During one of the most divisive times in our nation’s recent history, it’s of paramount importance to remember the real reasons for these peaceful protests. The anthem, and everything it stands for, is not the target of these peaceful protests. The American flag and the accompanying anthem are merely a vehicle used to convey a message. Kaepernick protested (while others continue to protest) systematic oppression against people of color, the criminal justice system and police brutality.
“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.” —Colin Kaepernick, August 2016
The misunderstanding of these protests cause problems and division nationwide. While some see these protests as an attempt to shed light upon social injustices against people of color, others interpret them as a direct attack on the flag and everything it symbolizes. Let me make this clear: the athletes protesting during the national anthem are not attacking the men and women who risk their lives every day to provide these athletes with the freedom to peacefully protest. These athletes are protesting the innocent killings of people of color, the lopsided incarceration rate skewed towards people of color and the inequality these men and women face everyday of their lives. These undeniable truths are what athletes are protesting.
Through hard work and dedication to their craft, these athletes gained access to one of the largest platforms in the world to speak their minds. And when the President of the United States voices his displeasure with their first amendment rights to peacefully protest, the spotlight only brightens.
Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Couple this dissent with a polarizing speech in Alabama targeting the peaceful protests of NFL athletes and you have the recipe for action league-wide. Each team chose to stand united against the polarizing words of President Trump, rather than be complicit. Herein lies the issue: the President of the United States chose to verbally attack peaceful protesters. The President of the United States referred to peaceful protesters as “sons of bitches”, but refers to Nazis in Charlottesville as “very fine people”. When peaceful protesters speaking out against real systemic issues in America are condemned, but white supremacists are seen as ”very fine people”, progress cannot be made. One step back must be followed by two steps forward, not two more steps back.
If people spent half as much time working to fix systemic flaws and stopping social injustices towards people of color as they did reprimanding players for “disrespecting” the flag, some progress may have been made by now. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The real issues are still hidden under the false assumption that athletes are protesting the anthem, the flag and the men and women who sacrifice everything to protect our freedoms. Only when the truth about these protests are understood can progress in fixing social and systemic issues be made.
Change needs to occur starting from the bottom all the way up to the president. Specifically, a change in how we look at one another. Be conscious of the decisions you make, the things you say and to whom you deliver these words to. When you see injustices, do something to stop them. Work towards fixing systemic flaws in your community and do it knowing a better community waits on the other side. A community full of love, equality and prosperity. Work for one another, not just yourself.
To those of you who made it this far: I thank you for reading what I have to say, whether you agree with it or not. I urge you to think before you speak. Think about the injustices happening towards people of color every day. Understand that the national anthem is a vehicle players use to deliver a message to a larger audience. Do more to level the playing field for every American.
To the President: It’s time to act like one. It’s time to stop polarizing and dividing the citizens of your country, but rather unite them. Use your platform to bring people together, not turn them against each other. Recognize the injustices occurring in your country and do something about them. Recognize the systemic flaws in your country and change them. It starts with you.
Even 50 years later, these words remain relevant:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
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