This past weekend, in response to President Trump’s calling for owners in the National Football League to fire any “son of a bitch off the field right now” who kneels during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before games, owners and players alike criticized the president for his remarks. Many players across the league, regardless of race, knelt or locked arms as the anthem played, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks did not leave their respective locker rooms until after the anthem was played.
In last year’s September edition of The Loyalist, I shared my opinion on the Colin Kaepernick situation, and while Kaepernick’s protest did not necessarily offend me as an American, his lack of skill as a quarterback and immaturity as a social justice figure ultimately did delegitimize his message as a whole.
Whether or not the protests of these athletes are justified by statistics or emotion from a nationwide perspective is irrelevant to the fact that they are merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Some of these athletes come from a reality where police brutality and racial profiling exist. Their collective protest represents an overall dissatisfaction with a societal ignorance of the situations of many who are affected by police brutality and racism.
While both sides of the political spectrum can agree that the players are merely exercising their First Amendment rights, the most controversial aspect of the anthem protests is the argument echoed by the president: that the players are purposefully disrespecting the memory of those who fought and died defending the rights we as Americans hold dear.
However, the oath of the U.S. Army states that soldiers must “defend the Constitution of the United States,” which protects the right of freedom of expression and speech. The brave men and women who fought and died for this great nation did so to ensure that every American would be guaranteed the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Therefore, our armed forces did fight for the players’ rights to kneel during the anthem, as well as the rights of the Americans offended by these actions to criticize the players and refuse to consume the NFL.
Because of its nearly league-wide unity, the NFL’s collective protest transcends the split between loving and purposefully disrespecting the United States. Conservative NFL owners such as Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones defended their players’ right to protest, reinforcing that players should not be punished for speaking out on political issues no matter their party allegiance.
Furthermore, prominent players who have advocated for actual social justice causes in the past have taken a knee. Outspoken Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman released a video criticizing President Trump’s comments on the protests and calling for national unity. White quarterbacks Tom Brady (a supporter of the president) and Aaron Rodgers both took to social media to express their support for their teammates who chose to kneel. Even basketball star LeBron James, who has also been an advocate for social justice causes, called Trump out on Twitter.
While these players might not embody the explicit brand of Americanism endorsed by the President and his supporters, the anthem protests give a platform to a dissatisfied minority seeking to create societal change throughout this beautiful country. The overall reaction to President Trump’s comments proves that societal change can be united beyond racial and political bounds.