During the past few weeks, there’s been upset about athletes kneeling during the anthem before professional sports games. It was August 2016 when Colin Kaepernick sat down during the anthem before a game for the first time. Kaepernick was an NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the time. After his act went viral, Kaepernick told the media he sat for “the oppression of people of color and ongoing issues with police brutality.”
Kaepernick has been a regular in the sports news section since for constantly upheaving attempts at normalcy with his activism and public statements. Fellow athletes kneeled with him as the 2016 NFL season progressed. Teams such as Seattle’s Garfield High School football players and West Seattle Wildcats joined in, along with coaches and team staff. On Sept. 22, 2016, Kaepernick was featured on the cover of TIME magazine for an article titled “The Perilous Fight” by Sean Gregory. The protests gained traction, and groups of athletes across the board were kneeling or raising their firsts during the anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick and his fight against racial injustice and police brutality.
Eventually, many thought the controversy would be over when NFL teams refused to sign Kaepernick due to his “baggage,” but other players continued to protest at the start of the 2017 NFL season. On Sept. 22, President Trump urged NFL team owners to fire athletes who “disrespect” the flag by kneeling during the anthem. This sentiment is echoed by many of the league’s fans and followers.
However, more athletes are kneeling in solidarity or raising their firsts during the anthem. NBA athletes, such as LeBron James, have spoken about Kaepernick’s message and Trump’s demands for the ends of their careers. “He’s now using sports as the platform to try to divide us,” James said in a video posted to his Twitter. “We all know how much sports brings us together… It’s not something I can stand for and it’s not something I can be quiet about.”
Many dissenters of Kaepernick’s actions fail to notice that the U.S. flag code in no way prohibits kneeling or sitting in the presence of the flag or during the anthem. The code encourages individuals who can stand to do so, but it is merely a conduct violation and not a sign of disrespect.
Those things that do disrespect the flag, according to the U.S. Flag Code of Conduct chapter 10.176I, and can be found aplenty in our country include: carrying the flag flat or horizontally (such as on a field before a sports game); using the flag as apparel, bedding or drapery; using the flag on easily discarded items such as napkins, paper plates or plastic cups; using the flag in advertisements of any kind; and embroidering the flag onto things such as pillows, handkerchiefs or cushions.
These disrespectful practices are commonly ignored because it is not useful to critique them. The “disrespect” excuse is, however, useful for discrediting Kaepernick and his allies without actually addressing their message. The peaceful protest by the NFL, NBA and now MLB athletes does not harm or threaten anyone, yet somehow it’s viewed as a great slight to our country as a whole. Despite this, Kaepernick continues to inspire his peers. Perhaps one day we will learn to look away from his methods and focus on his cause.