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NFL protests highlight social justice issues

Photo Courtesy Nick Kearney

Photo Courtesy Nick Kearney

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Photo Credit: Nick Kearney
Junior Hannah Smith believes there are better platforms for protest

Photo Credit: Nick Kearney
Brian Turner, poet and veteran, supports free speech

On Aug. 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was observed remaining seated on the bench for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem. When asked about why he chose to remain seated Kaepernick says that he took this action to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. Since that time, he and many other professional football players, as well as other professional, and amateur athletes, have joined in taking a knee during the national anthem to bring awareness to social injustice in this country.

In an Aug. 27, 2016, interview Kaepernik said, ”I’m 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.”

Protesting during the national anthem has become a national controversy, and has ignited a public debate about the protestors’ messages and how they have chosen to deliver them.

A poll last winter of 1,850 adults concluded by The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of Americans believe it is never appropriate to kneel during the national anthem. The poll also revealed that 42 percent of Americans believed it is appropriate to kneel, with 4 percent having no opinion. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

Those opposed to protests during the national anthem believe it is disrespectful to the men and women of our armed forces who have risked their lives, been injured, or died while serving.

One such individual is Carole Isham, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem.

“It just blows my mind that somebody like (Kaepernik) would do what he does to dishonor the flag of this country and the national anthem when we have young men and women overseas fighting for this country, people that have died for this country,” she said in an interview with USA Today.

Proponents of the protests assert that freedom of speech is a fundamental right under the Constitution that we, as a nation, have fought to preserve, that the ability to express ourselves freely, without persecution is a right we should celebrate and exercise.

An open letter signed by 35 military veterans and dated Sept. 2, 2016, showed support for the protesters.

“Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech,” they wrote.

Brian Turner, an American poet, essayist, and contributor to Sierra Nevada College’s Writers in the Woods program and director of the MFA creative writing program, is a veteran who is a strong advocate for freedom of speech.

“As a veteran I support free speech, and I believe all Americans have their own individual relationship to the flag,” he said. “I respect Colin Kaepernik’s efforts to call attention to work that needs to be done in America.”

Some supporters of Kaepernik’s message take exception to his method of delivery.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback, in a 2016 interview said, “It is an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.”

Hannah Smith, a junior sustainability major at SNC, sees nuance with the protest.

“We all stand up for our individual rights in different ways,” she said. “I may not necessarily agree with someone’s method, but that doesn’t make it wrong.”

“There are definitely better platforms to deliver this message because people are talking more about the kneeling than they are his message,” said Smith.

President Barack Obama in an interview with CNN expressed concern that the decision not to stand for the national anthem can get in the way of the message.

“As a general matter, when it comes to the flag the national anthem and the meaning that it holds for our men and women in uniform and those who’ve fought for us – that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his (Kaepernik) deeper concerns are,” he said.

Anton Waller, a senior finance/global business management major at SNC is originally from Sweden, and has a different perspective on the issue. Waller says that 10 years ago they did not play their national anthem at schools or graduations because of concerns about it being interpreted as being disrespectful to the large population of immigrants living in Sweden.

Waller also believes that there are better platforms to draw attention to this issue without creating controversy.

“People attend sporting events to enjoy the event, not to witness a political protest,” he said.

And the controversy over the protests may be adversely affecting interest in the National Football League. According to reporting by The Blaze, the NFL is selling fewer tickets, is experiencing a decline in TV viewership, and making less revenue, with ratings dropping approximately 20 percent since 2015.

President Trump opposes, and has openly ridiculed those individuals refusing to stand for the national anthem.

In June, Trump asked NFL players for pardon suggestions relating to unfair convictions.

“If the athletes have friends of theirs, or people they know about that have been unfairly treated by the system, let me know,” he said.

The NFL this season abandoned a policy designed to penalize players who protest on the sidelines. Presently, the NFL and the NFL Players Association are in discussions to reach an agreement on resolving the controversy.

Dan O’Bryan, Assistant Provost, finds that the NFL players are showing respect for the flag and the Constitution by exercising their free speech rights.

“I would say that most Americans, in time, will see this not only as a valid protest, but as an integral part of being an American,” he said.

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NFL protests highlight social justice issues