Politics in football: Should players express themselves?

Over a year ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stayed seated when everyone else rose for the national anthem. That was in August 2016, and now in October of this year, we are still battling over this debate.

There is a lot going on here and it is important to understand everything that is happening to see the full picture.

Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem in protest of police brutality and minority discrimination. Throughout the season, starting or not, he took a knee and some players started to take Kaepernick’s side by joining his movement. While it was a story in the headlines, there were only 30 to 40 players participating at most.

But then at the beginning of the 2017 football season, President Trump said via Twitter that taking a knee during the anthem was “disrespectful and the son of a bitch doing it should be punished.” He also called for league owners and general managers to suspend or cut players protesting. The response was incredible.

Teams and players around the league responded in mass, with entire teams taking a knee while coaches and players linked arms. The Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in their locker rooms during the anthem. The league banded together against Trump’s call for a stop in the exercise of free speech.

The saga continued last weekend, when Vice President Pence left the Indianapolis Colts game after seeing players kneel during the anthem because of the “disrespect to our flag and our country,” he remarked on Twitter. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has also changed his tune, looking for there to be league-wide rule changes in order to keep players from protesting.

What was a statement about inequality and police procedure has now turned into a fight for the freedom of protest to be exercised, no matter when or where. This has also formed into a battle of rich, white, elderly men versus young, black athletes and their right to express.

It cuts even closer to home because of what is represented in the national anthem and what it means to so many citizens about being a part of the country. Still others hate the idea of politics and sports mixing at all, wishing to see the two steer clear of one another.

My take on the matter is as follows, take it or leave it: this is an expression of free speech and protest that should not be smothered. So many have bemoaned the fact that athletes have conducted themselves poorly in the limelight, with various legal problems off the field. Now they are taking on a social issues and the same level of moaning and groaning ensues. From athletes like Muhammad Ali to Jim Brown, these are the players we have looked to as great men in sports. Now not only are players taking a stand against social issues, they are fighting forces that would wish to see their voices quieted.

This is a protest, which will offend and hurt people by its very nature. But it is being held in a nonviolent context and with respect. This is a battle that Kaepernick (even with ulterior motives, a.k.a. police brutality) started, Trump continued and the players are finishing. Football players are unifying in an act of expression for their ideas and beliefs, which carries back to the roots of what this country was founded on. Not much more American than that.

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