To Kneel or Not to Kneel? That Is the Question
What Do the Readers Think?
Do you agree or disagree with athletes taking a knee while the national anthem is played?
Where I "Stand"
Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you've at least heard about the divisive issue of athletes kneeling before our flag while the national anthem plays. It seems that everyone has an opinion on the issue, yet no progress towards understanding has been made. To be honest, I've heard cogent arguments on both sides of the issue, but in the interest of full disclosure, I feel it's important to let you know where I stand (literally and figuratively). I am opposed to players kneeling before the flag and my reasoning is simple—it's just bad optics. There's something in my conscious brain that tells me what I'm seeing is aesthetically ugly. Perhaps, I don't understand it because it is a sort of new phenomenon that I myself have never witnessed. Or maybe my love of country and life experiences have caused me to view the "anthem-kneeling" as unfathomable. This isn't the first time an athlete has done it, so it's not unprecedented. That being said, I was too young to remember Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a point guard for the Denver Nuggets who sparked major controversy when he refused to stand for the anthem during the 1996 season. That was then however, and it was a solo act. The "here and now" is a group effort that is consistent week to week and aggrandizing.
The man behind the movement, was none other than former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is now a free agent. In the beginning, he remained seated during the anthem but that eventually evolved into the kneeling gesture. People's initial visceral reactions were outrage and disgust but many came around on the issue when Kaepernick articulated his motives. He was not doing it to bash America but to bring attention to the killings of unarmed minorities at the hands of the police. Eventually more and more teammates joined him and it became fashionable around the league to mirror what Kaepernick had started.
A Complex Character
Kaepernick is a complicated figure which makes understanding the movement he's spring-boarded that much harder. This is a man who controversially has worn a Fidel Castro t-shirt after a game in Miami of all places which is home to thousands of Cuban exiles. In another head scratching move, Kaepernick compared modern day police to slave patrols with no hyperbole. This blanketed statement was made in spite of the fact that he's been on record as saying, "not all cops are bad". The statement that was really offensive to many including myself, was his choice to wear socks depicting police officers as pigs. This is where Kaepernick's message gets lost and where he loses credibility.
Bringing attention to police brutality is great and starting a national dialogue about it is even better. But his contradictory actions such as those i've mentioned, make it hard to support him and easy to criticize him. I would argue that there has been quite the amount of attention paid to the issue of police brutality with marches, protests, and riots happening around the country. On a side note, I think it's important to point out the difficult job of being a police officer. This idea that cops are unjustifiably gunning down minority groups without reprove is ridiculous. The police are often on-edge in this nations minority precincts which are rife with crime and drug dealing. In this hostile environment, criminals and cops alike are tense and this sometimes lead to aggression and poor judgment from both sides. Cops get up everyday knowing they might not come home and for that they should be given the benefit of the doubt. They're your last line of defense and should be looked upon as heros not villains.
Am I so naive that I believe all cops to be good people? No, in fact I recognize that some may be racist, violent, and shouldn't be given a gun in the first place--See, e.g., Oakland Rough Riders & Rampart Scandal. But that's a microcosm of the human condition. Human beings are flawed by nature, it's just that many have worked to fix these character flaws as they mature and others don't bother. You can find anecdotal examples of crooked cops,trigger happy officers, and corrupt precincts throughout modern history; however, should the actions of the few reflect on the many? Simply put, there are bad apples in every bunch. I digress...
Now we get to the present situation. I've seen the headlines on several TV shows that have posed the question of, "Has Kaepernick's message become distorted?". I would say yes, unequivocally, because the initial message was to criticize police brutality but now kneeling for the anthem has a different meaning for many athletes who simply do it to make a cheap political point or simply to spite a president they don't like. The message Kaepernick was trying to proselytize has now devolved into political posturing.The paying customers have become wise to this and have finally thrown in the towel on the NFL. Countless lifelong fans have posted videos and pictures to social media of themselves burning jerseys, hats, footballs, and even their stacks of season tickets!
There are far more effective ways to air grievances than just giving the proverbial middle finger to the United States flag and accompanying anthem. There are many scribes scouring the locker room fishing for quotes; so I say to the players: articulate your sentiments with words! The spoken word is a far better form of protest because if you speak the same language, what you say or are trying to convey can't get lost in translation; a more effective means of communication I do not know. Physical gestures are an effective way to provocate but not articulate, in my opinion. The flag should not be looked upon as a symbol of contempt because it is all encompassing. The flag is a representation of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Mostly the good, but also serves as a reminder that we have lived and learned from the bad and ugly moments in our history. Through all our trails and tribulations, the flag still stands and these athletes should consider that. We're not perfect, but we're the best.