When Colin Kaepernick took the news by storm by kneeling during the national anthem, people throughout the country were divided by the meaning and impact of the gesture. While Liberal media took the side of the protesters without necessarily analyzing the content of their efforts, Conservatives have seen the kneeling as disrespectful to the flag and lacking in direction. In a period of increasing political division in our country, it is important to understand perspective and source of Republican views on the take a knee movement.
Origins of the Divide
Forgetting the knee taking aspect of the protest, those on both sides of the issue often forget that the movement began with Kaepernick sitting during the anthem rather than kneeling. As disrespectful as the kneeling has been considered, Kaepernick’s original plan of sitting during the anthem was only scrapped to minimize backlash, a calculated public relations move. Additionally, while Kaepernick insisted that he was simply protesting race relations and inequality, Kaepernick made his perspective clear when addressing the media, stating that he was, “…not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” With this statement, Kaepernick seems to make it pretty clear that he intended to preach against the messages of flag, implicating the flag in the alleged injustices of society. Regardless of the validity of the players’ claims, the protest of the flag is interpreted by many as disrespectful to America’s national values. Kaepernick and others are roasting the symbol of the very freedoms that they claim to be fighting to keep alive. To believe this correlation is to assume that the flag stands for any one belief system or worldview rather than our nation as a whole.
Those against the Take a Knee Movement believe that to protest the flag over a single issue takes away from the history of our nation’s struggle to achieve the level of freedom we now enjoy. Though there were dark and problematic decisions made by leaders under the flag, these are not enough to tarnish or erase the tradition and ideals of freedom and liberty that it represents. To take the flag to task in such a fight is just as reductive as tossing out an entire bushel of apples for one bad fruit. Kaepernick and others insist that the movement is not disrespectful to the flag or the country and that there was never any intent to target the flag alone. By choosing only to kneel rather than sit during the national anthem, Kaepernick partially conceded his efforts. By taking this step back, Kaepernick and the others effectively called into question the strength of their convictions, and weakened the rhetoric and tone of the protest.
Perspective of Republican Lawmakers
In addition to President Trump’s many words and speeches on the matter, many other Conservative lawmakers and voices have espoused a negative view on the Take a Knee Movement, seeing it as subversive to the flag and unpatriotic. One such testimony came from Republican Alex Mooney, a Representative from the state of West Virginia. In a statement, Mooney expressed his belief that, “The president is right to publicly object to this disrespect to our flag and nation. While we can disagree on politics and policies, we should not denigrate our flag in our national anthem.”
Mooney and other Conservatives believe that the protest is a cheap way to politicize certain issues. While most tweets by Republican lawmakers on the matter were restrained in a similar manner, the President was more explicit in his comments, stating, “The NFL players are at it again – taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love…” The President alleges that these professional athletes were far removed from police brutality and struggle, owing to their high income. As many have noted, the President suggests that the protest alleges police brutality and inequality without defining or quantifying them.
The NFL Responds
With this political protest unfolding on national television on the field, the NFL had to respond quickly and decisively to the incidents. While public and civic opinion of the events are deeply polarized, the National Football League made their stance clear and unflinching by opposing the gesture and punishing players involved in perpetuating it. It is no secret that the NFL has run a number of promotions and a thriving partnership with the military for decades. Consequently, the league came down on the side of the Republican establishment, needing to protect their business interests as well as public image.
While the league was unable to halt the protests outright, they were able to reach middle ground. Reacting to the public controversy in a policy statement on May 23rd of 2018, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell indicated that, while players would not be required to stand for the national anthem, they were not to be on the field during the anthem if they did not stand. While strangely coming to a relative compromise with the protesters, the National Football League still managed to at least make the protests less visible by taking the protests off the field and off the cameras. This policy by the NFL largely succeeded in reducing the protest to an entirely unseen gesture behind the scenes.
A Futile Gesture
Setting aside any opinion on the intent and message of the protest, many argue that the gesture has little chance of affecting major change in society. While these protesters are vocal in their opinions, they often fail to elaborate on how to improve the system. Like the infamous protests of Occupy Wall Street and many other recent Liberal protests, the Take a Knee Movement seemingly lacks any stated objectives for bringing about change. Without offering direct solutions for their problems, the movement simply has no forward momentum. The players taking a knee offer only a symbolic show of protest and no tangible solutions or suggestions to deal with the alleged societal problems. With the protesting players now pushed out of sight and out of mind by Roger Goodell and the other NFL executives, the protest has begun to slowly shrink from the news, social media, and consequently the public consciousness. Without broad public visibility on a daily basis, the take a knee movement has mostly failed to survive the highly competitive news cycle. Because there was little structure or intent within the movement, loss of visibility has proven to bury the issue in the face of more time sensitive and stimulating news stories.
- Another Democrat takes a knee on House floor to support NFL protests – The Hill
- The #TakeAKnee protests have always been about race. Period. – CNN
- Charlottesville attacker sentenced for beating black man at white supremacist rally – Independent
- NFL protesters won’t see change by kneeling during anthem — here’s what they SHOULD do – Fox News
- Roger Goodell’s statement on national anthem policy – NFL.com
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