The NFL Protests Were Never About the Military or Flag

By Cassidy Camp on September 27, 2017

This article regarding the NFL protests will not use inflammatory language to attack any person on either side of the ongoing debate, but will instead pose an argument for which I hope you will keep an open mind as you read. 

Baltimore Ravens players kneel during the national anthem before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. Taken by Matt Dunham / AP.

There has been a lot of heat generated around the topic of NFL players refusing to stand during the national anthem this past weekend; so much so that even President Trump called the players “sons of bitches.” I can’t get two posts deep into my Facebook feed without seeing something about it on either side of the debate, and there seems to be one common thread that permeates every post and comment section: the debate that sitting/kneeling during the national anthem is or isn’t disrespectful to our military, flag, and/or anthem. When I realized that this was the main debate surrounding the story, I couldn’t help but think about how off-topic the conversation has become. The truth is, the players’ peaceful protest was never about the military or the flag or the anthem, but about rampant and systematic injustice seen in the United States today, specifically injustice related to race.

Let’s think back to the man that started the movement. When asked why he refused to stand for the national anthem during one of his football games back in 2016, Colin Kaepernick said, “ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things going on that are unjust and people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. This country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all, and it’s not happening for all right now.” He went on to specify that police brutality against black Americans and the murder of black Americans by the hands of police officers and correctional officers was the center point of this peaceful protest. This is not to insinuate that all deaths of black Americans by the hands of officers were unjust by any means. The deaths of unarmed black Americans that were suspicious and seemingly covered up were the focus, aka police brutality fueled by racism.

In the same interview, Kaepernick was asked how he felt about the accusations that, because the American flag and the national anthem are symbols of the military, he was disrespecting the troops by refusing to stand. Kaepernick responded, “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country. I have family and friends that have gone and fought for this country and they fight for freedom. They fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice for everyone. And that’s not happening.” Not only this, but  former Seahawks player and Green Beret Nate Boyer spoke with Kaeppernick regarding the protest as well, and convinced him to kneel rather than to stay seated on the bench. Why? Respect.

“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer says. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”  When asked if Kaeppernick was receptive to his ideas, Boyer described him as very receptive. “Very receptive. [Kaeppernick] said, ‘I think that would be– I think– I think that would be really powerful,’” Boyer recalls.

Tweet by NateBoyer37

The decision to kneel during the national anthem was meant to raise awareness about the failure of the United States government to stand for its citizens in extreme cases of injustice; Kaeppernick and the participating players were kneeling at their fallen brothers’ graves, as Boyer would put it. Furthermore, our national colors, red, white and blue, were chosen as the colors for the flag and seal of the United States for specific reasons. Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, explained the significance of the colors to Congress when he presented the first official United States seal in the late 1770s. White was chosen because it represents purity and innocence; red was chosen because it signifies hardiness and valor; blue was chosen because it represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The players participating in the NFL protest were originally refusing to stand for the anthem because they feel that the values represented by the United States flag and anthem were not being upheld and practiced as they should’ve been. In support of this claim, Kaepernick said, “I’ll continue to sit. I’ll continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change and when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

However, the NFL protest evolved after a series of tweets issued by President Trump that called for protesting players to be fired. Trump also tweeted that, “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag, and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” The problem with Trump’s tweets is that the protest had almost everything to do with race and always had since it’s inception. It seems that the entire issue of racism and unjust deaths of black American citizens by the hands of police officers has been understated and replaced with a less uncomfortable argument by accusing the movement of being unpatriotic. The NFL protest suddenly grew in the number of players participating simply because of their desire to demonstrate their first amendment right. President Trump’s call to fire NFL players that are protesting is utterly unconstitutional. Additionally, the protest was never aimed at the United States military, the flag or the anthem, but at racial injustice. The fact that the attention has completely shifted away from the original issue of injustice and police brutality is unsettling.

Tweets posted by @realDonaldTrump

With the right to freedom of speech comes the responsibility of good judgement regarding what should or shouldn’t be said where and when. I’ve seen a lot of comments that allude to the idea that athletes should “keep their political opinions off the field,” the same argument that has been levied against celebrities at award shows and concerts. I understand how realizing that your favorite celebrity or sports team doesn’t share your beliefs or values can be difficult. Disagreement is uncomfortable, especially when we disagree on things that are part of our hearts and souls. However, we need to remember that the stand that the NFL players are taking is because reforming the injustice they see and feel in the country they love is part of their hearts and souls, and there’s no place of better visibility to raise awareness for their cause than on national television at a football game. They’re using the best resources they have in order to make a change and raise awareness.

Even if you don’t agree with the action of sitting down or kneeling during the national anthem, I think it’s safe to assume that we all want a safe and just criminal justice system for everyone. Nobody deserves to have their life or their loved ones’ lives stripped away because of someone else’s hatred or indifference. That’s what the NFL protests are about: liberty and justice for all, not anti-patriotism or disrespect. 

Cassidy is a dual degree student at FSU in the Humanities and Editing, Writing, and Media majors. She is a bibliophile and bookworm, and you'll often see her walking to class with her nose between pages of a book. Music is an important part of Cassidy's life; she's a vocalist and a songwriter in her spare time. Cassidy aspires to attend a Master of Communication graduate program after graduating FSU and, once finished with school, strives to enter the Public Relations field professionally.

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