Opinion: Land of the free

 Illustration by: Will Madison

Illustration by: Will Madison

Last year, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a movement by refusing to stand for the national anthem as a silent protest of the racial inequality and police brutality against people of color. This movement has spread from team to team and sport to sport. Many teams have even decided to stay in the locker room as a way to show that injustices need to be dealt with.

People have become upset by the players’ choice to kneel. The flag and the national anthem represent millions of sacrifices made by people who give their lives to serve our country. The argument made says that players should have to stand and respect law enforcement, active duty service members, and veterans.

As a journalist, I think that forcing someone to stand for a national anthem is a severe infringement upon their First Amendment right. I would think the people who feel personally victimized by strangers’ decisions to kneel during the anthem hold the same amount of conviction towards the preservation of our Constitution’s values. Forcing patriotism is un-American and ineffective.

Kneeling is not intended to disrespect those who serve our country. In fact, Kaepernick spoke with many individuals in an attempt to ensure he would not be disrespectful. Originally, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem. He wasn’t noticed by media until the third time.

Eric Reid, 49ers strong safety, chose to kneel alongside Kaepernick. Reid explains his decision and intention as one of respect, with kneeling meant to symbolize the flag being half-mast. They spoke with many people, including Nate Boyer, a veteran, looking for advice. The decision to kneel was not made lightly.

Kneeling, for many players, represents the injustices that are systematically part of America. This includes police brutality, a subject that has been at the forefront of national news for far too long. From 2003 to 2009, 1,643 out of 2,876 deaths categorized as law enforcement “homicides”, a staggering 57.1 percent, were people of color. This information isn’t new, it isn’t an exaggeration, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. In my opinion, kneeling is an incredibly poised and calm reaction to what is one of the most serious social issues of our time, one that dates back far too long in our country’s history.

We can debate whether or not we think kneeling is disrespectful to our flag, our country, or our president. We can debate about politics. I encourage it. I’m glad people are talking and thinking about this. But we need to listen to each other. I understand you may feel offended by an athlete protesting a controversial issue in what is technically his place of work. You may think it’s unfair that this controversy has brought politics into your beloved sport.

What I think is unfair, however, is that people are trying to bring awareness to injustices they face every day, and we’ve disregarded this in favor of arguing over everything but what is being protested. This isn’t about your flag. This isn’t about your anthem. This is about Americans, our own peers, neighbors, friends, family, idols, valued members of our community and lives, human beings, speaking up about issues that make them feel like they aren’t safe or welcome in their own home. This isn’t about you. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

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