Letter to the Editor: Taking the knee
To the Editor: The opinion article published in the Le Provocateur on October 18, “Kneeling sends the wrong message,” addressed the act of kneeling during the National Anthem in reference to the recent NFL protests. The article defined betrayal as, “the action of betraying one’s country, a group, or a person; treachery.” The actual definition of the verbto betray is: “to expose (one’s country, a group, or a person) to danger by treacherously giving information to an enemy.” Based on this definition, provided by the Oxford Dictionary, the act of kneeling during the National Anthem is not an act of betrayal. Rather, the act of protesting injustice may be one of the most patriotic things one could do.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers made the decision to take a knee during the National Anthem at the start of an NFL professional football game. Kaepernick started his demonstration as a protest against police brutality: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said in response to his action. His teammate, strong safety and linebacker Eric Reid, noticed what Kaepernick was doing, and wanted to know how he could join in.
“After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest,” Reid said. “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark tragedy.”
In Week Two of the National Football League’s current season, several members of the San Francisco 49ers made a display of unity by placing their hands on Eric Reid’s shoulders during the National Anthem. In response, President Trump criticized the protest at a speech in Arizona, stirring up even more controversy. Trump’s claim that any NFL player kneeling during the National Anthem is disrespecting the flag and the country inspired even more teams to participate in the discussion. Week Three was met with other members of the NFL, from almost every team in the league, responding in a number of ways, including kneeling, linking arms, and remaining off the field during the National Anthem as a show of unity and solidarity.
During Week Three, when most members of the NFL participated in the protest, the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to remain in the tunnel during the National Anthem so that none of the players felt obligated to stand or kneel, showing instead that they would remain a united front. While the rest of his waited in the tunnel on Sunday, September 24, offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, stood alone on the field, just outside the tunnel. Critics of the NFL protests applauded Villanueva’s perceived patriotism, but Villanueva later admitted that he was embarrassed to be standing alone. Villanueva was supportive of the team’s decision, but had asked to stand closer to the front of the tunnel so that he could still see the flag during the ceremony. He later said that with all the commotion of people coming and going through the cramped tunnel, he accidentally strayed too far onto the field.
While football fans across the country are divided on the issue, 97-year-old World War II veteran John Middlemas took a knee in support of the demonstrations, saying, “Those kids have every right to protest.” So while some Americans call this silent protest an act of betrayal to the country and to the men and women that serve the it, veterans like Villanueva and Middlemas recognize their role in protecting citizens’ rights to a peaceful protest without misinterpreting the demonstrations as acts of disrespect.
The negative reception of the gesture appears to be a misconstrued escalation, or possibly a blatant disregard for the true intention of the protest. This is not about disrespecting anyone in the military, but attempting to hold the country to a higher standard. To claim that it is unpatriotic seems like a petty attempt to distract from addressing the issue at hand. Many find it hard to believe that someone could look at the American flag and feel anything but pride, but there is a vast spectrum of experiences that Americans have. It is hard for those blinded by, and complaisant in, the privilege of having white skin to understand the different experience of living in America with black skin. America is not the ideal land some believe it to be, and it is a disservice to all of us, but especially those suffering here, to pretend that it is.
Kaepernick’s actions are not defaming America, but shedding light on the ugly parts we wish to ignore, and demanding better. In the article previously published by the Le Provocateur, the writer claims that, while “Kaepernick was kneeling for Black Lives Matter,” players today “are kneeling for their own political beliefs and [an] unwillingness to stand with [their] president.” However, players and coaches who have been interviewed about their role in the protests consistently respond that their decision to participate was motivated by their support of their teammates as they attempt to start a dialogue about injustices towards black lives. Players are not kneeling because they are unwilling to stand with their president; players are kneeling because they’re unwilling to accept the injustices that affect so many people across the country. The very fact that strides toward racial equality are interpreted as going against the president shows how institutionalized the problem is and how necessary the change is.
Sarah Clancy, a senior, studies global studies and political science. Caitlin Pierson, a senior, studies English. They are staff writers for Le Provocateur.