Welcome to the 2017 NFL season, where the conversation is not on who is going to win the Super Bowl but on which players are kneeling, sitting, locking arms and even stretching during the national anthem.
But there is now a question regarding those who kneel or sit during the anthem: Are they doing it for the right reasons – to protest the police brutally against African Americans and minorities? Or has the act shifted from police brutality to acts of defiance toward U.S. President Donald Trump, who called athletes “sons of bi*ches?”
It started in August 2016 with one NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, now a free agent, taking a stand for civil rights by sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after a game. "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 away with murder.”
Now Kaepernick is a free agent. You can catch him on his social media platforms. He’s still singing the same civil rights tune; although, he isn’t working with a team. Meanwhile, players are representing him by wearing T-shirts that say #IAMWITHKAP.
You would assume they would speak out more, or use their platforms more, rather than simply wear a T-shirt that might be sold out before this article is posted. But it took a Friday night rally in Huntsville, Ala. on Sept. 22, held by U.S. President Donald Trump to call athletes out and crudely describe those protesting during the anthem as “sons of bi**hes” for many NFL players to finally make a move.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now. Out, he’s fired!” Trump bellowed in Huntsville. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them.”
Over the last 13 months, players from across the NFL and NBA have made their own point. Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns kneeled. Duke Johnson Jr., also of the Cleveland Browns took to the knee. While, LeBron James held a news conference where he called Donald Trump “that guy,” speaking on how “that guy” is trying to use sports to divide us.
MVP Steph Curry and Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr preferred not to attend the White House, a customary trip made by NBA champs, due to Trump’s words. Trump’s response to Curry and Kerr came in a tweet.
Trump wrote, “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn.”
From Trump’s withdrawal to the name-calling, more have taken up Kaepernick’s role to kneel. Even former NFL player Ray Lewis has changed his tune. In 2016, Lewis said to TMZ Sports that he supports Kaepernick 1000% but he didn’t believe that kneeling was enough.
“Kaep, I applaud you,” he said on the sports network. “But I am a solutions-based person. If you don’t have solutions from a protest then it remains a protest.”
Then, earlier this football season, Lewis was seen holding hands with fellow Ravens before a game on both knees with his head down. His response? He reportedly said he dropped to two knees to, “honor God in the midst of chaos.”
The more public the kneeling, the more fans, students and college athletes are responding. Florida State University Head Football Coach Jimbo Fisher said, each player has a choice of what they want to stand for.
"Just know that, when you do those things, like I said, you can affect other things,” Fisher said in an interview with The FAMUAN. “It's not right or wrong. That's the thing about freedom. There's not a right answer to that. That's the greatness of living in our country. You have the freedom to express yourself how you want to express it. That doesn't mean you're a good guy, bad guy, indifferent guy. It just means what you believe in and what you stand for. I think that's one of the great things about our country."
FAMU’s new Head Basketball Coach Robert McCullum said he hopes his players would speak to him first before kneeling. He said he’d like to know the whys behind their actions.
“I want them to talk … as to what their reasons are,” McCullum said.
He added that he wanted their reason to be “something that is well thought out (and) near and dear to them and not something that is part of a fad.”
“At that time I would want to know why and what their reasoning for doing so is. I want them to be able to speak intelligently as to what their reasons are. I would like them to feel there is some validity to their reason. Something that is well thought out, near and dear to them and not something that is apart of a fad because someone else has done it.”
So, again, the question is: Are you kneeling for the right reason?