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The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

NFL protests: Can we talk about it?


If you have yet to hear, there is an intensely divisive debate going on right now in sports. No, it is not Brady vs. Rodgers or LeBron vs. Jordan. This argument is political – and it runs deep. Instead of our usual conversations about playoff hopes, Monday night matchups, or fantasy draft sleeper-picks, we are talking about race, freedom of speech, and the latest Presidential gaff. Now. the debate in sports has become inequality vs. equality and America vs. the individual.

These are tough matchups, and they carry with them more complications and historical precedence than some of us may even want to believe.

The controversy at hand begs for a wide variety of questions, and an even more convoluted set of opinions. Is this over the line? Where is the line? Who cares?! Why does he have to do it that way? Each opinion elicits some version of: “It’s offensive to the flag and nation” and “People have died for that song” on one side, or “We must speak up any way we can” and “There are people being oppressed” on the other.

I am not sure I can answer those questions or find the right set of opinions that perfectly tow the moral line. Sorry to break it to you, but anyone on either side who claims to have all the answers does not. The goal here is to contribute to a narrative which ignores the argumentative dialogue and pushes towards unity between opposite ends of this politicized spectrum

This dilemma seems to have begun with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year. He knelt during the National Anthem before each game in an act of protest against racial inequality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement – however murky he made that statement appear with his words thereafter . Kaepernick began his protests without much clear definition of what in fact he was protesting.

Since then, more teams  have followed in Kaepernick’s footsteps. So far this season, we have seen NFL teams lock arms while kneeling, or standing  in protest during the anthem. A number of players have spoken out in the media defending their purpose while many have remained quiet contributors to the same cause. To summarize their purpose for simplicity’s sake: “We don’t like what is happening in this country and we want it to change, so watch and listen.”

Then there is the opposition. Many Americans watch these professional athletes protest the flag and see only disrespect. The disappointment in this movement tends to be voiced from the more outwardly patriotic of sorts. American superiority is agitated as our feeling of social stability is rocked. That stability is rocked because these issues have been inserted into sports and sports media.

Football, our sanctuary from such hard-hitting topics, is now plagued by the very things we hope to escape every Sunday afternoon. We hear arguments that our players should “stick to sports” among accusations that such players are ungrateful citizens of the States. The Anti-protesters feel that the good work of our military and police are being dishonored while these rich athletes complain about problems they no longer have.

To me, each side presents a valuable set of ideals. However, there is something we are all missing as we bicker back and forth about who is better and why. The fact is, you can kneel during the national anthem while still supporting the military. You can stay in the tunnel while that beautiful song plays and still love your country as much as the next man.

The argument being made is not built with the purpose of destroying our country, but it is built with the purpose of improving it. It is not, “I’m kneeling because I hate this country and support nothing about it.” A closer examination would say that “I’m kneeling because I want something in my country to change.”

Seeing oppression and wanting change is no moral crime or even constitutionally offensive. However, the way in which change has been sought can be upsetting or disrespectful to some. It can also unify others and contribute to a different future.

Stop the arguments about whether or not minorities are oppressed in the United States. It’s a fact. They are. Full stop. But guess what? You can be uncomfortable while protesters kneel AND not be a racist. Right or wrong, there are members of our military who have fought and died for the very freedom to protest in the first place and are upset at the sight of certain people unhappy with the results at home. That is simply a natural human reaction.

The thing is, neither side needs to be upset at the other. It does not solve anything. You aren’t even upset at the person across from you for the right reasons. Protesters are fighting against the very real and legitimate inequalities that exist, not against the very fabric of American life or the members of the military, who protect them and their right to protest. At the same time, anti-protesters of good intention  are not necessarily arguing against the existence of inequality or the protesters right to speak. Rather, at the core, they ask for a different approach and more clear depiction of purpose.

Ok, sure. Maybe there is a better time, a better place, a better way… but aren’t we talking about it?

Politics and sports can mix, as they often have in history. There truly is nothing wrong on any level with an athlete speaking or demonstrating their personal thoughts publicly – they have that right and that pedestal to do it from.

I can understand that when people begin to protest national symbols during sporting events, things can feel a bit unhinged. Like many, President Donald Trump is concerned about the showing of disrespect – such remarks coming from a man who, one could argue, is not exactly renowned for his respectfulness. This feeling of civil unrest has been the most difficult thing to overcome on a personal level. However, history has a way of bringing clarity to the present.

There are so many moments in the American story that pivot at points like these. When it comes to racial inequality, I now see it as obvious which groups end up on the right side of history. Sports has often amplified our national identity. If you cannot get past your anger towards those protesters ask yourself: Did Tommie Smith and John Carlos not have a message on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games? Did Muhammad Ali remain silent? Did Jackie Robinson stay in the Negro Leagues or did Branch Rickey refuse to accept him? Every one of these figures stood alongside other agents of change.

America appears to be as divided as it ever has been, but it is moments like these during which we can make the most positive impact for our future and unify across borders of sport, fandom, race, religion, or political affiliation. Here, right now, we can talk about the things that matter and change them. No more bickering about certain laws, restrictions, or feelings about the right approach to protest. You will never find an answer to national unity in these squabbles. Eventually, we will rise to our feet again. But we must make sure that we do it together, and understand why.

*Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via*


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NFL protests: Can we talk about it?