Kneeling for the Divided States of America

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Colin Kaepernick, image from Nation of Change

An Unresolved Crisis in Stalemate for Another Season

 As 2017, and the NFL football season, ends, the NFL protests, and the huge outcry over them, have not. It is clear that this simple act of kneeling in protest is extremely divisive in the US, partly because it stems from, and epitomizes, the racial tensions and troubles on every level of American society. The protest must be effective on some level to cause such a strong public response, although the message is getting lost in the controversy.

The symbolic act of these players kneeling while the national anthem plays, rather than standing, is the essence of protest. Protesting players aren’t lazy, disrespectful, or ungrateful; they are frustrated by a real injustice and threat to their community, to their families and friends, and they found a way to use their platforms to publicly address it. They are community leaders, which gives them a unique power that they are exercising as best they can.

Kaepernick first began sitting during the anthem in August 2016 under President Obama, who, along with the NFL, said that he respected his decision and his right to protest. Kaepernick said that he wanted to support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest the treatment of African Americans and other minorities. Initially, it wasn’t a huge issue nationally, but it is shocking how quickly peoples’ attitudes changed under new leadership. When the 2017 season began, President Trump decided to demand respect that he hadn’t earned. He made the issue about him and used it to stir up his base, dividing America even more. Clearly, many Americans interpret the act of any person kneeling as an attack on America and the troops, especially when they are encouraged to do so by the President himself.

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Colin Kaepernick, image from thefederalist.com

The fact that these players are willing to risk their one chance, especially in the case of Colin Kaepernick, who is still without a contract, should be commended, not punished. His career is at a standstill, because he tried to call attention to a gross injustice and dysfunction in American society, racism. It is disturbing the way that racism seems to permeate, almost unspoken, through this whole controversy. These are mostly black players trying to represent a community that feels unfairly treated and unheard, and in response, politicians and the public dismiss their concerns again!

Lives are still being lost far too regularly without cause. Recent data shows that police across the US have shot and killed more than 2900 people since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, launching the Black Lives Matter movement. It is impossible to know the circumstances of each shooting, but there is clearly an on-going problem, and there is no national discussion of how to actually change things. People, no matter their race, ethnicity, or religion, should not fear for their lives and be at the mercy of police officers.

Why do so many police officers assume that people, especially black men, are guilty, and a danger, and will shoot a uniformed police officer at the first opportunity? Many officers justify fatal shootings, because they feared for their lives, often for legitimate reasons, but not always. Courts and society just accept that this fear is justified and clear officers of wrong-doing, even as the family and friends protest that the victim wasn’t armed and wasn’t a threat; even as we see the footage of men begging for their lives before they are shot, sometimes in front of their loved ones.

Obviously change is needed, and decision makers should use research and evidence to find a workable and effective solution. As 2018 begins, it’s time to work for and demand change, so that every American is proud to stand for his or her country and for what that country stands for. Otherwise, we’ll be in the exact, same place next football season.

 

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