#TakeTheKnee: Why American NFL Players Are Defying Their President
Players are protesting the US administration’s perceived racism by kneeling during the pre-game national anthem.
The US’ National Football League and its players are at loggerheads with the Trump administration. Players across the country are protesting the US President’s lukewarm stance on a resurgent white supremacist movement typified in the Charlottesville riots, and the government’s inaction on racially charged police brutality in the country.
‘Taking the knee’, as it has become known, has left the country divided. Much like in India, the debate rages around freedom of speech on one side, and nationalism on the other.
Free Speech VS Nationalism
While some are supporting the players and their right to protest peacefully against racial inequality, many are calling such gestures disrespectful to the country and ‘un-patriotic’ – a charge that Indians would now be familiar with.
President Donald Trump has spoken extensively against the protests on Twitter. He’s said that such incidents disrespect the country’s heritage. One of his tweets read:
The number of players protesting increased on Sunday when, according to a report by The Telegraph, in the 14 games which were played, around 150 players kneeled or locked arms during the national anthem.
Almost the whole Oakland Raiders team sat on their bench ahead of their game with the Washington Redskins. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans protested by staying behind in their locker rooms. Many other teams protested in similar ways.
More players decided to join the protests after Trump’s speech in Alabama on Friday, where he urged the team owners to fire the players who refused to stand during the anthem. Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out! He's fired.”
The president urged the people to boycott the league to bring the players in line. He tweeted:
In competition with #TakeAKnee, Trump has pushed his own position with the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem.
But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell slammed Trump’s comments as disrespectful to the sport. He said, “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force of good our players and clubs represent in our communities”.
Trump’s words also found opposition in the Congress when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee took a knee on the house floor showing solidarity with the players.
Even singer Stevie Wonder joined the protest by getting down on his knees on stage before his show in New York’s Central Park.
How It Began
In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem before a pre-season warm up game. He did so at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement was already in full swing in the country.
According to a report published in The Guardian earlier this year, young black men faced the highest rates of US police killings in 2016.
In an interview to NinersWire, last year, Kaepernick said:
There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.Colin Kaepernick to NinersWire
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick had said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish to look the other way.”
For Principle or For Pride?
It’s been a year since Kaepernick took the knee for the first time. The league and the team owners are now backing their players – but it wasn’t always that way.
The man who started the protests last year finds himself unemployed in this year’s NFL. According to a report by Time, Kaepernick wasn’t even invited to any team’s training camp for a tryout despite having once been “one of the most promising signal callers in the league”.
So not everyone is buying the NFL’s newfound change of heart. Enter former NFL player Shannon Sharpe, with this thorough takedown:
Sharpe has said that he is unimpressed by the NFL’s superficial show of solidarity. He said that it wasn’t police brutality, or the US President’s long-offensive conduct (“grab ‘em by the p*ssy”, his insults to a war veteran’s family, or his leniency towards white supremacists) which pricked the conscience of the team owners – rather it was their indignance at being ‘told what to do’ after Trump asked them to fire their players that pushed them over the edge.
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