Athletes’ protests ignite debate over free speech and respect
By Kiley Crossland
(WNS)–More athletes this week protested the national anthem, kneeling or raising a fist during the “Star Spangled Banner” to bring attention to racial injustice.
The controversial trend started in late August when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the anthem before the team’s preseason games. “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. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
The trend caught on quickly. On Sept. 9, high school football players in at least eight states, including almost an entire team in Norfolk, Va., knelt during the anthem. They were joined by: volleyball players at West Virginia State University; football players at University of Tulsa and Indiana State University; professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe; and professional football players for the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, and Los Angeles Rams.
While most coaches, team owners, college presidents, and high school superintendents are defending their players’ Constitutional right to free expression, a few are pushing back. U.S. national hockey coach John Tortorella told ESPN in advance of the World Cup of Hockey, “If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.”
Last week, University of Texas Chancellor Bill McRaven, a retired admiral, sent a memo to all presidents and athletic directors at the eight UT System universities asking them to “encourage your coaching staff and your players to stand up straight when the national anthem” is played, according to The Texas Tribune.
“While no one should be compelled to stand, they should recognize that by sitting in protest to the flag they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make this country what it is today—as imperfect as it might be,” McRaven wrote.
President Barack Obama defended Kaepernick’s action: “He’s following his constitutional right to make a statement.” Obama acknowledged the flag and anthem hold meaning for men and women in uniform and “that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his deeper concerns are,” but added, “I don’t doubt his sincerity based on what I’ve heard. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump disagreed: “I think it’s a lack of respect for our country. I think it’s a lack of appreciation for our country and it’s a very sad thing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, actually,” Trump said during a call to Fox and Friends. He suggested Kaepernick and others protesting “should try another country, see if they like it better.”
Kaepernick said he would not stop his protest until the “flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
Caption: John Tortorella, the Team USA and Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, has said that if any of his players sit during the national anthem he will force them to sit out the rest of the game