Feels: The Evolution of the Protest: From Civil Rights Activism, to Meaningless Nonsense
September 1st, 2016: this was the date that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, initially took a knee during the national anthem. The original purpose of his protest was simple: address the systematic social injustices that currently exist in the United States, with the issue of police brutality on minority citizens initially spearheading the movement. The following weeks showed athletes all over the country such as Denver Broncos linebacker, Brandon Marshall, and the Seattle Reign midfielder, Megan Rapinoe join Kaepernick in kneeling for the anthem.
The protest was slowly taking over American sports. It dominated all the headlines as more and more top-tier athletes joined the movement. It was essentially the ideal protest. It was as peaceful as a protest can be and very effective in starting a dialogue regarding its purpose. With the main idea of the protest essentially being, “perhaps you should stop killing us and live up to the standards this country is supposedly built on,” this should have been a protest everyone could get behind, as you would think no one is against equality. Well if you, like myself, had that initial thought, you were extremely wrong.
This protest proved to be one of the most divisive topics in recent memory, as the opposition to this movement painted Colin Kaepernick as an unpatriotic villain who disrespected the flag, and in turn disrespected our country and military. If one believes that Kaepernick’s motive was to disrespect the flag intentionally, then this makes sense because the narrative is that the flag represents the country, and especially the military members who risk their lives for our freedoms. The idea that the flag should draw a direct correspondence to the military is debatable, as many may say the flag does not directly represent the military, but instead the military is just a small part of what the flag represents, but that is another conversation for another day.
This idea that Kaepernick was disrespectfully protesting the flag is completely absurd. Not only did Kaepernick shift his protest from sitting to kneeling after former navy seal, Nate Boyer, informed him that sitting comes off as disrespectful, while kneeling does not, but the protest has zero to do with the flag itself, and everything to do with the core values the flag is supposed to represent. If the country elects not to uphold the values that our flag is supposed to represent, then it loses all meaning and becomes just a piece of fabric. In the minds of many, by allowing so many police officers to get away with killing unarmed people of color, among other issues, that is exactly what has been taking place. But alas, Kaepernick was still demonized by the media.
This slander of Kaepernick’s image could not have come at a worse time, as after the 2016 season concluded, Kaepernick entered free agency. Typically, players of his level find a new suitor fairly quick, but this was not the case for him as he sat at home waiting for the call for an extended period of time. The months continued to go by and Kaepernick was still unemployed, leading many to believe that he was being blackballed by the league because of his protest. He is by no means a top-tier player in the league anymore, but he is still a good player, and there are many players at his position who are far inferior to him statistically, who have jobs in the league. In 2016 Colin Kaepernick put up 16 touchdowns, to only 4 interceptions, with a 90.7 passer rating. These are not the stats of a player who should be without a job, even if as a backup. While this act of apparent blackballing is very unfortunate for Kaepernick and the state of the league, as it is not a good look for a player to seemingly be shunned for using his first amendment rights, the movement didn’t die with his career. Kaepernick essentially sacrificed his career to raise awareness for an issue that is now dominating the sports world, and the start of this year’s NFL season has shown the ability of the protest to live on without Kaepernick, as many players continued to kneel during the anthem. For the first two weeks of the season the protests carried on in normal fashion, but the media attention was slowly dwindling, that is until President Trump changed everything.
On Sept. 22, 2017 President Trump held a rally in Alabama, where he proceeded to refer to the players who were protesting social injustices as “sons of bitches.” The president felt that the players were disrespecting the United States by kneeling during the anthem. These harsh comments brought the NFL protests to an even brighter national spotlight than ever before, while simultaneously creating even more division in the country. Trump went on to suggest that the NFL owners should immediately fire any player who continues to take a knee, and if there’s anything we know about billionaires, it’s that they don’t quite enjoy being told what to do. The events that followed made the accuracy of that statement very apparent. The following Sunday showed nearly every team in the league take part in the anthem protest, which on the surface seems as if it would be a great thing, but we soon found out that the reality of the situation was quite the opposite. The entire narrative of the protest had been shifted from attempting to shed light on social injustices in the country, to showing unity against President Trump. Several of the owners came down to the field and locked arms with the players during the anthem, and to put it simply, it was the most meaningless, straight up corny nonsense I have ever seen.
By doing this and making the “protest” – which at this point was more of a middle finger to the president, than a real protest – about unity, as opposed to creating change, the NFL owners essentially gentrified the entire movement. While there were still players keeping the movement alive by kneeling, separate from the other players locking arms, the narrative in the mainstream media had already been completely skewed. All the news outlets were pushing the idea that it was the NFL versus President Trump, as the president continued to attack the league via his infamous tweets in the following days.
In reality, the protest had absolutely nothing to do with Trump before he thrusted himself into the forefront, and continues to have nothing to do with him after. It is imperative that the real message not be lost. Colin Kaepernick, and those who followed, did not kneel to disrespect the flag. They did not kneel because they do not respect the military. They did not kneel to fight back against the president. They did it to raise awareness towards the injustices that currently exist in our country when it comes to violence perpetrated against unarmed people of color by the hand of police officers, and the countless other examples of inequality in our great nation.