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Take a Knee: Are the NFL Protests Disrespectful?

Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.


Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick became the starting quarterback for the San Fransisco 49ers in the middle of the 2012 season. That year he led the team to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. The following year, he led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game. In 2016, during the preseason, Kaepernick found himself embroiled in controversy when he refused to stand for the National Anthem. When asked about his decision to remain seated he explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag that oppresses black people and people of color. 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 and getting away with murder.”

On September 1st, Kaepernick opted to kneel for the anthem, rather than sit, as he felt it showed more respect to members of the military. That was the last year he would play for the 49ers. He opted out of his contract at the end of 2016 and is now a free agent.

Colin Kaepernick was a decent quarterback with a passer rating of 88.9. Under any other circumstances, he would have been signed up by any team wanting a win. Unfortunately, 2017 was like no season I have ever seen before. In that year, it was difficult to differentiate between the sports pages and the political pages.

Stand for the Flag, or Stand Your Ground?

In 2017, players from all over the league chose to kneel for the anthem, and chaos ensued. As more players began to kneel, they were joined by other players in solidarity. Even in high school games, the players would kneel for the anthem to show their support. This caused a backlash against teams by the fans. Many fans felt that it was disrespectful to the flag and to the military to kneel. They believed that such actions were unpatriotic; some went so far as to burn season tickets and other memorabilia. President Trump, unable to pass up a good fight, called for the owners to “get the sons of bitches off the field.” Vice President Mike Pence became involved in the firestorm several weeks later when he walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game against the 49ers. This political stunt created no small controversy when it was discovered that his protest cost taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars.

In some ways, Kaepernick’s protest was wildly successful. Everybody was talking about it; from your septuagenarian aunt to your 12-year-old son. And isn’t that the goal of a protest, to draw attention to your cause? When Patriot’s tight end Aaron Hernandez murdered Odin Lloyd, it didn’t cause this much of a stir. If the purpose of a protest is to draw attention; it worked. Kaepernick had the attention of the entire nation. No one can say the man doesn’t have sand. He stuck by his principles even as middle America turned against him

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In other, more tangible ways, Kaepernick’s protest was wildly unsuccessful. While it may be true that everyone was talking about the protests, it seems equally true that much of the nation has missed the point. Why kneel, why ruin your career, why sacrifice everything, if people don’t understand why you’re doing it in the first place? In 2016, Kaepernick explained to the nation his refusal to stand for the national anthem, and if you listen real close, you can hear the zooming noise as the point still flies over people’s heads.

Innocent Victims

On 22 November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an African American, was playing with a toy gun at a park in Cleveland, Ohio. A patron called 911 on the child, and several times throughout the call, the witness said that the gun was probably a fake and that the suspect was probably a juvenile. Nevertheless, Ohio police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback pulled up to the scene, and after yelling at the child to show them his hands, Loehmann shot twice. One of the bullets struck Rice in the torso. He died the next day. Ohio is an open carry state, there are no laws against walking through town with an actual gun, let alone playing with a gun replica.
On 18 July, 2016, a white 23-year-old autistic man wandered off the grounds of a mental health center and began playing in the street with his toy truck. Social worker Charles Kinsey, an African American man, went to bring him back to safety when police arrived at the scene. They had received word of a suicidal man wandering the streets. The police ordered Kinsey to lie down on his back with his hands in the air, he complied and SWAT team member Jonathan Aledda fired his gun three times, one of the bullets struck Kinsey in the leg. After Kinsey was shot, they turned him over and handcuffed him, then left him bleeding on the ground for 20 minutes. When Kinsey asked the officer why he shot him, Aledda told him honestly “I don’t know.” Fortunately Charles Kinsey survived the shooting and on 12 April, 2017, Jonathan Aledda was arrested on charges of attempted manslaughter.

The Washington Post launched an investigation in 2015 into fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians. They found that unarmed black men were seven times more likely as unarmed white men to be shot by police. The Post had recorded 987 incidences of fatal police shootings by August 2015; in 60 of those incidents, the people shot were unarmed. Out of that 60, 24 (40%) of the victims had been black men. By January 2016, 38 unarmed African Americans (36 men and 2 women) had been shot by police while only 32 unarmed Caucasians had been shot (31 men and 1 woman). That is why Colin Kaepernick and other members of the NFL kneel for the anthem. It is not to denigrate the flag or dishonor service members, it is because they seek to protest police brutality.

Some police officers sign up for the wrong reasons. They enjoy the power and the authority that comes with wearing a badge. Some police officers joined the force for the right reasons, but later became jaded, or worse, even corrupt. Most officers however, are just regular men and women doing a difficult job, at the end of the day they just want to go home. And at the end of the day, they deserve to go home. They’re the ones walking the thin blue line to keep us all safe.

That said, they’re not the only ones who deserve to go home at the end of the day. Tamir Rice, Charles Kinney, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray, and others too numerous to mention, all deserve the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the rest of us. If something that has no worth is broken, you throw it out. If a valuable item is broken, you try to fix it. It is not too much to ask that the brave men and women, who risk their lives every day to keep us safe, undergo further training. It is simply acknowledging that part of the machine doesn’t run as it’s supposed to. Why would anyone want to keep a broken machine? Why would anyone deny that the machine is broken? Fixing it won’t be cheap or easy, but letting it lie damaged is so much worse.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Anna Watson

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