By now, we are all familiar with the massive debacle that was the NFL kneeling controversy.
What most people still don’t know, however, is how it started, why it was started, and the effect it had on the NFL and all of its sponsors, fans, and players. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Leading up to the 2016 NFL regular season, former Seahawks player and Green Beret Nate Boyer had a talk with San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick about honoring the national anthem. Boyer was actually the one who suggested taking a knee alongside Kaepernick’s teammates during the anthem. Boyer stated that “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect.”
Kaepernick wasted no time and took his first knee during the 49ers’ final game of the 2016 NFL preseason.
What many people didn’t recognize was the purpose behind what he was doing. Kaepernick stated in a postgame press conference that he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country 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.” For Kaepernick, he was never trying to disrespect the flag, veterans or the national anthem, as many people accused him of doing. He was merely exercising his freedom of speech, something that all veterans and servicemen have fought and died to protect.
Before long, the movement had spread like wildfire across the NFL. Robert Quinn, a defensive end for the Dolphins, raised his fist during the anthem. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcom Jenkins raised his fist while teammate Chris Long “placed his arm around Jenkins’ shoulder”, cornerback De’Vante Bausby also raised his fist in protest. Just to list a few names.
Initially, the NFL couldn’t do anything to players who protested the anthem. The rules stated that while it is encouraged that all players stand and hold their hand over their heart during the anthem, it is not required.
Many fans who detested these demonstrations began protesting the protests by not going to games, refusing to even watch the games on television and, you guessed it, burning their NFL gear and posting the videos on the Internet. (That’ll show ‘em!)
Kaepernick eventually sued the NFL for conspiring against him, accusing NFL owners of collectively making the decision to no longer allow him to play in their league even though he would be overqualified for a backup role at the least.
The NFL finally caved to President Trump’s incessant whining about players protesting. The NFL decided that it will fine any individual who chooses to do anything other than stand and show respect for the anthem and flag. Players are not required to be present on the field during the anthem, however.
New York Jet’s chairman, Christopher Johnson, said anyone on his team who chooses to protest during the anthem will do so without incurring any fines. He stated that “If somebody (on the Jets) takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players.
The NFL then changed the policy to suggest that players stand during the anthem, but wouldn’t fine them if they chose not to. Instead, “teams will be subject to a fine if a player disobeys”. Each club does have the freedom to fine its own player if it so chooses, however.
Today, Colin Kaepernick is a civil rights icon. He has donated over one million dollars of his own money to charities across the nation. And he took part in Nike’s 30th anniversary campaign of its Just Do It slogan which led to another wave of backlash against the former NFL star.
The best way we, as a nation, can move forward with this controversy is by asking ourselves how we could handle this situation differently were it to happen again. When a fellow citizen is willing to sacrifice his profession and reputation in order to point out injustice within our own borders, maybe we shouldn’t respond by sending him death threats and burning things to prove a point. Perhaps we could use it as an opportunity to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves,
“Can we, as a people and as a nation, do better?”