Fourth of July fireworks fanatic. Barbecue enthusiast. Cub scout. Boy scout. Eagle scout. Yes, I’m as American and patriotic as they come, and as a child, I was taught to respect the national anthem. Twice, my school choir performed the Star-Spangled Banner at the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards. Not once have I, personally, refused to stand while it is played at a sporting event. But when New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins took a knee during the anthem at their respective games last Sunday, I applauded their refusal to stand idly by as their president tried to silence voices bringing awareness to the issue of systemic racism in the American Justice System.
America is not broken, but President Donald Trump is bent on the idea that standing for the anthem is required of anyone who wishes to be considered a patriot. At a rally in Alabama on September 22nd, Trump referred to kneeling NFL players as “sons of bitches” as he called for their removal from the sport. However, by conflating a willingness to stand during the anthem with a sense of patriotism, the president has ignored American ideals expressed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. The First Amendment gives citizens the right to peaceably assemble when they feel they have been wronged or let down by their government. Why? Because in light of the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers wished to encourage citizens to speak out against unfair and unjust government policies when necessary. And in a year when the percentage of the African American population fatally shot by police is 2.7 times that of America’s white population, it is clear that speaking out is now necessary. A person who truly loves his or her country, a patriot, seeks to rectify such issues. Thus, by advocating positive change in America through striking, but peaceful, demonstrations, NFL players are, in fact, acting patriotically.
Moreover, by calling for the punishment of professional football players who have chosen to take a knee during the anthem, Donald Trump has unpatriotically attempted to abuse his power and influence as president to limit freedom of speech. Although he has not promoted legislation requiring all American citizens to stand as the anthem is played, his loud and public discouragement of a form of peaceful protest is still inappropriate and disturbing. It is crucial for Trump and his supporters to understand that anyone has a right to voice their grievances against the country in any manner that is peaceful and does not impact the safety or well-being of others. By continuing to kneel together, NFL players have sent the message that the president cannot deter demonstrations through the use of harsh words, threats, and name-calling.
Some argue that if NFL stars truly cared about the issue of systemic racism in the United States, they could and would use their wealth and fame to bring awareness to the problem in other ways. Individuals with such arguments assert that football stars are only continuing to kneel during the anthem because they wish to bring attention to themselves. However, it seems that their fans are actually less interested in watching them play after such demonstrations. According to a CBS News report, online NFL ticket sales have plunged by double-digit percentages over the past week. For example, the report states that this week’s ticket sales on the website TickPick are 17.9% lower than last week’s. Since interest in the sport ultimately behooves NFL players, it is unlikely that they would continue to protest solely for media attention. Therefore, further demonstration is likely driven by a legitimate desire to protest.
Sadly, the only reason the president and his supporters are so vehemently opposed to this form of protest is that they find it “disrespectful”. Yes, ironically, the same conservatives who love to label those of us on the left “liberal snowflakes” are railing against peaceful demonstration that offends them. The fact is that kneeling during the national anthem neither causes nor incites violence, and is therefore a right possessed by NFL players as well as all other Americans. To challenge that right is to challenge the very ideals upon which this country was built, and is, therefore, unpatriotic.
Penn State College