Three Nebraska players took a knee and locked arms during yesterday’s national anthem before the Nebraska - Northwestern game. Those players are senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey, redshirt freshman linebacker Mohamed Barry, and redshirt freshman DaiShon Neal.
Four other Nebraska players assisted in holding a large flag during the national anthem. Those players are junior placekicker Drew Brown, senior guard Sam Hahn, sophomore wide receiver/do-everything-guy Zach Darlington, and sophomore tackle Nick Gates.
Such protests have brought out a strong emotional reaction from fans across the nation, whether those protests are carried out in Nebraska, NFL cities or at local high schools.
There are two sides to the protest; some feel that it’s disrespectful to the flag, veterans, or those in active-duty service protecting the country. The other side feels that players have a right to protest; that it is part of their freedom of speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. I fall on the latter side. Those who defend our country do so to defend our rights to protest against their own government and in fact, to take up arms against our government should it ever engage in tyranny against our own citizens. These rights are what makes our country unique and these protests celebrated rather than being looked down upon.
There are, however, problems with the protests.
First - people are focused so much on the offense directed at patriotism that they’ve forgotten what the protests are about in the first place. People get caught up with the concept of protesting against the national anthem and against the flag and they feel you’re protesting against the United States. It muddles the issue behind what the protests are supposed to be about.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started this form of protest and explained his choice to sit during the national anthem with this statement:
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Obviously Kaepernick was referring to police shootings of black people; an issue that has been in the forefront of the media for some time now.
This form of protest is simply not very effective. People confuse the issue of patriotism with the issue of police shootings when they should not.
This form of protest will not fly very well particularly in Nebraska where the citizens are very conservative and for the most part, very patriotic. While it might appear that you’re bringing more focus to a cause, all you’re really doing is pissing off people who will then shut down and stop listening to you.
Another potential problem lies within the football team. Having one group (all black) of players protest during the national anthem while another group (all white) show patriotic support can lead to a rift within the football team. Obviously that’s not good for the hopes and dreams of Cornhusker fans everywhere.
Taken from another perspective, the football team could serve as an example to the rest of us by staying unified, and by unified, I’m not referring to their social causes. I’m referring to their willingness to work together to reach a common goal despite their differences. We seem to have lost this over the past few years in America, replacing “common goal” with “I want to be right and win no matter the consequences”.
We ask ourselves why we have the two worst possible presidential candidates in history while at the same time we are God-awful at listening, honestly listening, to people whose viewpoints don’t match our own. It’s really a damned shame because we’re more collectively educated than ever and have a lot to offer each other.
(I should point out that I’m a white guy who grew up in a small town in Western Nebraska. I have lived in suburbia most of my live, and currently live in Chaska, Minnesota and have for over 20 years. I’m not someone who should be telling black people that they’re wrong. I should be listening.)
In the end, the national anthem protests are meaningless unless they lead to something more. They are symbolic. If players wish to truly bring about social change, the protests will have to evolve into something more than just sitting or raising a hand.
During his week three press conference, Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman talked about how players are trying to take a stand and be aware of social issues. He talking about his community service and his frustration in teaching kids how to deal with the police:
I do a lot of community service. I go out there and try to help kids and try to encourage them to be better and to aspire to more. And when you tell a kid, “When you’re dealing with police, just put your hands up and comply with everything,” and there’s still a chance of them getting shot and no repercussions for anyone, that’s an unfortunate time to be living. It’s an unfortunate place to be in.
There’s not a lot you can tell a kid. There’s not a lot you can try to inspire... a person when you say, “We need black fathers to be in the community to stay their for your kids,” but they’re getting killed in the street for nothing, for putting their hands on their cars. And I think that’s the unfortunate part, that’s the unfortunate place that we’re living in. And something needs to be done. And so when a guy takes a knee, you can ignore it. You can say he’s not being patriotic, he’s not honoring the flag. I’m doing none of those things. I’m saying, straight up, this is wrong and we need to do something.
Perhaps the next step for players will be to stop talking about football and start talking about social issues across the board. This will remove the complaints about patriotism and put the focus where it belongs.
If that doesn’t work, the next step will be obvious. Stop playing football. As of 2014, black players make up 68% of the NFL. They make up 56% of college football players. Stopping both would bring unimaginable amount of awareness to their cause while at the same time cause economic disruption; remember that one of the seminal moments of the Civil Rights movement was the Montgomery Bus Boycott and that was successful because people make it clear they were willing to wield economic power to promote change.
Having set that up as an end game for these protests - would you rather that players were protesting during a national anthem or that football stopped?
[There is a lot here. I expect all of you to be respectful to each other, otherwise comments will be closed rather quickly. You choose the level of discourse. I hope that it is high.]