*This story was originally published in the second quarter issue of the Eagle Eye*
America, in its current form, is a country divided. Since President Donald Trump’s victory in one of the most hotly contested elections in history, there has been no shortage of controversies to plague the country. The NFL has found itself at the center of one of the most divisive debates, most likely due to how deeply the national anthem and football are embedded in American patriotism.
Anyone who has turned on the news in the last few months has probably heard about the kneeling controversy sweeping across the NFL. Ever since quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the 2016 football pre-season, everyone from NFL executives to the U.S. president himself have expressed strong opinions in support or opposition of the polarizing subject.
However, what originally began as a protest against the injustices faced by minorities—African Americans in particular—in regard to police brutality, has exploded into a battleground for political debate. Whether Kaepernick knew the reaction he would incite from the public or not, one thing is for sure: his actions have further divided a country still recovering from a damaging election.
Whether someone is black or white, gay or straight, a Patriots or Jets fan, all of the American people have one thing in common: they are American.
Immigrants travel from around the world in the hope of making that dream a reality for themselves and their families. They struggle through sweat and tears for the right to be able to stand beneath those stars and stripes and call the land of the free their land and the home of the brave their home.
That privilege—the privilege that millions around the world dream of—is something that Americans have from the moment they are born. The freedoms, guaranteed by the millions who have sacrificed themselves, are a birthright. The right for Kaepernick to play football, let alone protest through it, was secured for him by the men and women who believed that the ideals of America was something worth fighting for—something worth dying for.
Those sacrifices are enshrined in the words of the national anthem. Francis Scott Key stood on the ramparts of a prison ship as he watched his countrymen fight for the hopes of the future—a future where being an American was something to be proud of.
It does not matter whether someone loves or hates what America stands for, because what America stands for is why they are allowed to love or hate America. The freedom of speech and the freedom to protest are an integral part of the ideals of this nation, and that right to protest has been used again and again over the course of U.S. history; on so many occasions, it has proven to be a force for good. So in protesting the national anthem, the football players are in many ways protesting their right to protest.
What Kaepernick and those who have followed his example are trying to achieve is a testament to the forward-thinking mentality that has propelled the United States to the forefront of the world’s superpowers. Unfortunately, the only thing that their current method is going to achieve is further isolating segments of the population from their goals, effectively creating the opposite reaction they were trying to achieve.
In light of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School players’ decision to stand during the national anthem over the course of the season, a debate has arisen over what administration should have done had players decided to take a knee. There are a couple reasons as to why the school would have had a legitimate backing to ban students from taking a knee.
The first reason is the fact that the students are exactly that: students. Schools go out of their way to prevent any actions taken by the students that will create an outcry by the parents or members of the community—a certainty should students kneel. Therefore, the school has the authority to infringe on the rights of students if, by kneeling, they created a significant disruption. While the students right to protest is protected, documented in the Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court case in 1969, the reaction of parents and fans towards the actions could be substantial enough to justify administrative intervention.
Secondly, the political environment surrounding the protest has caused the meaning of protest to be lost. No matter what the purpose of a student’s decision to kneel might be, the message that will come across is only a political one. Therefore, if a student wishes to protest racial injustice, then protesting the national anthem will prove fruitless.
There are countless ways to defend or promote your beliefs, but insulting a symbol of the right to be able to protest is not only ineffective, but also a surefire way to create opposition to whatever belief is being focused on. The best way for NFL players to heal this divided country is to stop kneeling and start standing up for their rights.