The right to #TakeAKnee is what makes America great
Too many words, presidential tweets, columns, and minutes of airtime are being wasted on the simple act of exercising a constitutional right.
Donald Trump raised a ruckus when, in the middle of backing the losing Senate candidate in the Alabama Republican primary, he switched back to Celebrity Apprentice mode and demanded that any player in the National Football League who dared to kneel during the playing of the national anthem be fired. “Fire the son of a bitch!” Trump roared, practically foaming at the mouth.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco Forty-Niners, gained notoriety in 2016 when he took a knee during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a game to protest the killing of unarmed African-Americans by police. Since Kaepernick and other players who knelt with him in solidarity also were black, it was pretty obvious that Trump was playing the white race card to his white rally. Trump’s racial dog-whistle was more like a blaring trumpet.
NFL players and owners bristled at Trump’s suggestion. They were all justifiably upset at Trump’s insults. During games on Sunday and Monday, more than 200 players — and many owners — sat or knelt during or before the anthem. One week earlier, only six players took the same protest action.
Some raised their fists in the air, reminiscent of the black power salute by U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics. Many players and owners acted in solidarity by linking arms to show support for each other and, yes, the flag and the country.
Some white commentators and white football fans, many of whom never bother to take off their hats during the anthem and certainly don’t sing along, are acting miffed that the players’ actions are somehow “disrespectful” of America. Those who seem to worship the Second Amendment are mortified when people want to express themselves using the guarantees of the First.
But let’s not pretend that they don’t know what’s behind the purpose of these protests. They are trying to call attention to racial injustice in this country. Those hysterical critics can hide behind their red Make America Great Again baseball caps all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that police shot and killed 963 people in 2016 and have killed 730 people so far in 2017. These figures are from The Washington Post, which started compiling the list in 2015 because no one else seems to bother. And yes, most of those killed are people of color.
Using the platform of sports (or entertainment, or science, or education, or religion, or just about anything else you can think of) to express an opinion is nothing new.
The Catholic social activist Dorothy Day once took a knee in prayer when the national anthem was played during Mass. She was labeled “unpatriotic,” but she objected to the blurring of church and state.
After the weekend brouhaha and Trump’s endless nonsensical tweets about kneeling at football games, the Union of Concerned Scientists started their own #ScientistsTakeAKnee protests. From labs to college campuses to field sites to the Arctic, scientists knelt in solidarity. “If there is only one scholar of color on your team, how about while you’re on that knee figure out how to add more,” read one tweet.
Two black Chicago police officers took a knee with a local community activist in a precinct lobby, and the Instagram photo went viral, mostly with comments of support. As their behavior went against police department policy banning political conduct while on duty, the two officers face a reprimand, although Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to criticize their behavior.
Liberal pastor and blogger John Pavlovitz, who has written a lot about this issue on his Stuff That Needs To Be Said blog, put it succinctly:
By creating a black and white “Traitorous NFL Player vs. America” storyline, you’re able to completely ignore the stated and repeated impetus behind Kaepernick’s initial protest (and every one that’s followed): the plea for people of color to be treated with equity by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and our government. When the president labels these men “sons of bitches” who should be terminated — he’s only proving why their protests are valid and necessary to begin with. … They’ve done these things, not because they hate this country — but because they want everyone here to have the liberty the flag points to and the song suggests.
After all, what’s more patriotic than doing what it says in the Pledge of Allegiance — asking for liberty and justice for all?