On Aug. 26, 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was noticed taking a knee during the national anthem before a preseason matchup against the Green Bay Packers. After the game, Kaepernick revealed that he was making a protest against the treatment of African-Americans. Kaepernick was not the first athlete to make a political statement, or even the first to not to stand during the anthem, yet his decision sparked a wave of controversy that washed across the nation. As taking a knee during the national anthem became a more common sight across the league, it brought more and more media attention. The amount of coverage became bothersome to many.
“I think most of these people don’t want political values (in the game) in the first place, myself included. They just want to be able to watch football on Sunday and yap about their fantasy football team,” said John Minster, president of DePaul College Republicans.
Professor Terry Smith, a black man who recently wrote an article published in the Huffington Post on the topic of kneeling during the anthem, argued against the no politics in sports stance. Smith recalled the 1936 Berlin games, where Hitler hoped to prove his theory on the Aryan race as superior in every way correct. Instead, African-American athlete Jesse Owens ran and jumped his way to four gold medals and three world records.
“I think if you go back to the Olympics in the 1930s with Hitler, there has always been an element of politics in sports,” Smith said.
Mikaela Ziegler, president of the DePaul College Democrats, gave more examples of politics in sports in the past.
“I’ve never really thought politics could be separated from anything,” Ziegler said. “What is a woman’s place in sports? Some might say that is political. For a while we didn’t let black people play on our professional teams, some might say that is political.”
Minster noted that in 2016 the Dallas Cowboys were denied the ability to wear a sticker on their helmet honoring cops that were killed in a sniper attack.
Whether politics have a spot in sports or what kinds have been allowed previously became a split in society, but the protest continued to bring up more topics for debate. The new divide was on the respect of the flag.
“(The flag) is one of the few things where we can all stand and acknowledge the country’s founding as well as the people who fought and died for it,” Minster said. “Some people say you are supporting it by using these rights. No. Burning the flag does not mean you support the flag, right?
“So in the same sense, kneeling during the national anthem does not mean you support the national anthem, it’s showing you have a specific grievance against it. That’s fine, but I think there are a lot better ways to do it,” Minster said.
The military, as Minster mentioned, has become an active party is this part of the debate. Some have said it is disrespectful to their fight, while others argue it is the right to protest that the military fights for. Smith brought up the point that just because the military fights for the flag does not mean they can define what it stands for.
“I don’t think that being in the military gives you any greater standing to say what patriotism is and what it isn’t. I think that that definition varies depending on one’s history in this country and one’s present day experience,” Smith said. “For African-Americans, I think patriotism means pushing back on established norms and expanding the meaning of that term.”
Juan Carlos Perez was a Marine Corps infantryman from 2007 to 2015 and did tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Perez argued that the actions he has taken defending his country gives him the right to see players actions as disrespectful.
“I’ve trained for and deployed four different times around the world including getting injured in Afghanistan,” Perez said. “I consider that time, mixed with the the blood, sweat and tears endured in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, a solid justification to deem the players actions disrespectful to what I have done and what others have sacrificed to keep the U.S. and our allies safer.”
Perez added that while he feels that it is disrespectful, he agrees with others like his friend Jalil Vasquez who believe they fight for others right to protest. Vasquez served for four years as an infantryman in the Marine Corps and was adamant that it is the player’s right to fight.
“I don’t agree what they are doing to be honest, but this is not a communist or a fascist country. They have every right to protest in any shape or form they please. This is an essential part of our country,” Vasquez said. “So I support their freedom of protest 100% even if I don’t agree with the action or way they choose to protest.”
In light of all of the controversy, president Donald Trump added to it when, during a speech, he insulted the players kneeling during the national anthem. Trump, using an explitive, said that owners should fire those players.
“I don’t think you should be fired if you do that. This is classic Trump, overreaching and polarizing an issue,” Minster said. “I think there is a broad swath of Americans who agree with him and who are pissed off about this whole thing and when he is as forceful as he is on it, at least publically, that creates this perception that, ‘yeah, he is on our side’. And in the same sense it makes people on the left get even more crazy.”
Smith went further, saying that it was a race issue as well.
“It’s no accident that he is targeting a league that is predominantly African-American, and it is also no coincidence that he is portraying them as unpatriotic because that is a stereotype that accompanies African-Americans,” Smith said. “I mean, we had the first African-American president who they were trying to portray as not even being born in the U.S. and therefore not eligible to be president. So, I thought that this was a studied move by Trump to distract people.”
Ziegler said that this is a free speech issue and that if players were fired for kneeling, it would be breaching the First Amendment.
“What the First Amendment does is it protects you from the government trying to restrict your speech and so Donald Trump is wanting to restrict the speech of these football players who he called on to get fired,” Ziegler said.
Trump’s comments lead to several debates on top of the turmoil that had surrounded the initial actions of Kaepernick. The NFL came out in full force with showings of unity. Owners, many of whom supported Trump during the election, came out with statements saying their team stands as one. Many teams locked arms during the anthem, while some players knelt. What started as a statement against police brutality has morphed into a show of division in the country.
“We are super polarized right now,” Minster said. “This debate has become extremely toxic and the whole message that Kaepernick and all these folks were trying to convey in the first place has become lost.”