This opinion piece was produced by a student in the Madison365 Academy. It reflects the opinion of the author, not necessarily the opinion of Madison365, its staff, board of directors, sponsors or funders. To learn more or support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.
Kneeling during the National Anthem isn’t about disrespecting the flag. It’s a form of peaceful protest against the racial issues and prejudice that is still going on in this country. As people of color, African-Americans specifically, everything we do is critiqued. The only way we are “allowed” to protest is peacefully, and even when we do that our people are murdered, arrested, and lose their jobs over it. The first time this act was really brought to light is when Colin Kaepernick, now a free agent quarterback who can’t get a look in the NFL, chose not to stand for the National Anthem during two of his preseason games. Kaepernick did this in response to the oppression and inequality that is still taking place in this country. For every person who has followed in his footsteps, it’s not about nor has it ever been about the flag, but demanding justice.
On August 28, 2016, Kaepernick was interviewed about his actions. A reporter asked Kaepernick how he viewed the flag and why he took the measures he did. Kaepernick’s response was, “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have 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. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.” Public figures like Kaepernick have a very powerful voice, and it is important to use it for something important. Kaepernick addresses issues that many people choose to ignore. Choosing not to stand for the National Anthem was a personal decision he made for himself. People sided with him because of the reason behind it all.
Four days after Kaepernick’s second sit-down in uniform, former Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer wrote an open letter to Kaepernick published in Army Times. Boyer reflected on how he felt during the National Anthem during his time on the Seahawks: “That moment meant so much more to me than even playing in the game did, and to be honest, if I had noticed my teammate sitting on the bench, it would have really hurt me. I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.” Boyer and Kaepernick met after the letter was published, and from that meeting Boyer shared, “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammate. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect.” Boyer, as well as other members of the military, see Kaepernick’s perspective and respect what he is standing up for.
Almost 70 percent of the NFL is Black men. In 2015, the NFL’s 32 teams earned nearly $12 billion during the season and over $1.5 billion in merchandise. The majority of money made from merchandise sales comes from favored players and positions – quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, defensive backs — and only the quarterbacks are predominantly white. Positions such as kickers, punters, centers, and backup quarterbacks are the positions that tend to be played by white players and are also the not-so-popular positions, and don’t bring in nearly as much money with merchandise sales. Black players bring in billions of dollars every season for the NFL, yet the league never touches on the issues that African-Americans face in this country every day. In an article published by Huffington Post, “70 Percent of NFL Players Are Black Men. Colin Kaepernick Should Be Praised, Not Condemned,” author H. A. Goodman makes the statement, “one would think that a league comprised primarily of black athletes would take greater interest in the societal issues affecting its players.” Take a second to think about this. A league – with almost all teams being owned by white Americans, but none Black – with a net worth of billions of dollars actually has the power to make a difference, but won’t. What does that say?
Some may say, “What do they have to be unhappy about? They’re all millionaires.” Which is true. Even the NFL’s minimum wage for rookies is a $450,000 per-season salary, which is sufficiently higher than the average American’s. However, money has nothing to do with racial justice. When you’re Black and in the NFL, you are still a black man living in America, you’re just a black man with money. When you’re a former NFL player and back in the “normal” world, you’re a Black man living in America, who may or may not still have a fortune. Former and current Black players have negative, violent encounters with the police frequently but they still have money, right? Former player Desmond Marrow was just tackled and falsely arrested by the police in April for thinking he had a gun in his pocket when it was just his cell phone.
The March on Washington took place in 1963. It has been 55 years and we are still protesting for the same thing and in the only way we can; by coming together and making a simple act speak volumes. People could argue, and there will be some who will, that things are different now. That we have rights, we have the freedom, we’re past all of the prejudice, and for what? Because it’s in writing? Because it’s the law? There has been very little actual, practical change. As African-Americans, we’re not seen as equal, we’re not seen the same. We need to be more cautious, we need to work harder, our lives are not valued the same. It is 2018 and if you ask me, things aren’t getting better, we’re at a standstill. Whether it’s 10 years from now or 100 years from now, we will speak until our voices are heard, until there is a change, until there is justice, and until every life we have lost unjustly is recognized. Until “With liberty and justice for all” rings true.