Protests are a part of American society. Exercising one’s First Amendment right is something that Wingspan supports, but only if the basis of a protest is morally within bounds of raising awareness of those who are less fortunate and lack an established platform.
A form of protest during the national anthem isn’t a new concept. During the 1968 Olympics, athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested during the national anthem. The athletes wore beads and scarves during the medal ceremony to protest lynchings, took off their shoes to protest poverty, and bowed their heads and raised their fists in a black power salute during the national anthem. During the Vietnam War, some fans would remain seated during the national anthem.
Wyoming isn’t new to a form of protest during athletic events either. On Sept. 20, 1969, The Black 14, a group of African-American football players for the University of Wyoming’s varsity football team, protested a policy of the Mormon Church that didn’t allow black men to have a leadership role in their church. The Black 14 wore black armbands to show unity against what they saw as an unfair policy.
Much like the previous examples, taking a knee as a form of protest isn’t about disrespect of the national anthem, veterans, or the American flag. This is a protest of disagreement of the current treatment of people in America.
A notable and current referenced example of this kind of protest was when Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sat during the national anthem during three games starting on Aug. 14, 2016 and later took a knee during games on Sept. 1 of that year.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in an interview after one of his games. “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 getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick, much like the other athletes who protested, were “reprimanded” because of their protest. Smith and Carlos were thrown out of the Olympics, The Black 14 were told that they were off the team, and Kaepernick hasn’t been resigned.
Kaepernick got heat for his form of protest because some interpreted his act as a disrespect to veterans and soldiers who died for the American flag. A thing to understand about the flag is that it is a symbol.
The flag is meant to stand for all of us. Justice, liberty and freedom. When half of the country isn’t being represented by that symbol, when someone looks at that flag and doesn’t have that justice and liberty and freedom, then that symbol loses it’s meaning.
Kaepernick, as well as other athletes who joined in this form of protest, were seen as ungrateful individuals who squandered having the opportunity to play at a professional level and took a paycheck from the NFL while disrespecting Americans.
When President Trump voiced his distaste of NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem in tweets on Sept. 23, the discussion was opened again to the public consciousness. Calling NFL players “sons of bitches” for a peaceful protest while calling some of the Neo Nazi and white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia “very fine people” is problematic. The people kneeling aren’t calling for elitist ideals and hate speech of people different than them. They are protesting, peacefully protesting, for equality.
Although the NFL’s showing of solidarity on Sept. 18 of this year speaks wonders, I find issue with what they were having solidarity against.
In 2016, when players decided to display a peaceful protest in taking a knee when acts of police brutality and police killing unarmed black men like Mike Brown, these protest weren’t a topic of solidarity or unity for all of the NFL athletes. Apparently, solidarity for the mistreatment of minorities didn’t play. But when Trump recently called out NFL owners and told them what they should do with players that protest, the act of taking a knee and showing solidarity during Sunday’s football game became a spectacle to see what team/which players are going to be the ones to make headlines for participating. A solidarity against what Trump said about them played.
Shannon Sharpe stated it best in the sports talk show, Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.
“I’m disappointed because this is the tipping point…” Sharpe said. “Him calling an NFL player an S.O.B.’s is what brought the NFL, its owners and its players together. While some might be moved by the conscience of these NFL owners, it wasn’t their conscience that moved them. It was the cash. What we know about people with money is that they don’t like being told what to do. They don’t like being bullied.
(Trump) said Mexico is sending us their worst: murderers, rapists, drug dealers. That didn’t shock the conscience of the NFL’s owners. Him offending gold-star families? Nope. Him on Access Hollywood talking about grabbing hoo-ha. That did not shock the very conscience of seven NFL owners.
I’m unimpressed because this wasn’t a protest, this was unity. So what are we showing solidarity against? We’re showing solidarity because President Trump challenged the wealthy men and he told them what you should do if someone protests.You should fire them. They don’t like being told what to do. And then he called the players that protested the Anthem S.O.B’s. That’s what got the owners, that’s what got the players to unite,” Sharpe said.
Every citizen has the right to form a peaceful protest. The meaning behind one’s protest is what judges the impact of that protest. If a protest brings to light the issues of poverty, lynching, mistreatment and killings of American citizens, the foundation of that protest is strong in where it is morally rooted. The NFL’s recent showing of unity is only based in the president saying mean words about a few of them. Their act of act of unity is flimsy.
The idea that the NFL currently represents a form of morality in our country is a sign of the state of our nation. It shows that our conscience only acts when we are personally attacked, not for the sake of those with no opportunity to stand up for themselves and who lack a platform to be heard.
When something is harmful to Americans, call it out. When a bad idea is being normalized, call it out. No matter if you lean left or right politically. But next time someone demonstrates a form of protest, it’s best to find out why they are doing it instead of assuming what their protest represents, demonizing them and voicing your outrage on social media.