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Why are people taking a knee during the national anthem?

At the beginning of the NFLs 2016 season, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback with the San
Francisco 49ers, took a knee during the Star Spangled Banner. When asked why he kneeled
during the anthem, Kaepernick stated, I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a
country that oppresses black people and people of color. ... There are bodies in the street and
people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Kaepernick's decision to kneel, rather than sit on the bench, was inspired by a conversation with
a former NFL player and Green Beret who saw it as a more respectful gesture toward the
military.

In keeping with a long tradition of athletes protesting social issues, Kaepernick decided to use his
platform to draw attention to police violence against people of color and the lack of
accountability for police officers. Since then, Kaepernick has received both widespread support
and criticism for his chosen form of protest. Now, a year later, Kaepernick finds himself without
a team for the season amidst allegations that he is being blackballed from the NFL for his beliefs.
Many players, including international athletes, have decided to kneel in solidarity with
Kaepernick and otherwise show support. And the protest has spread to the larger realm of sports:
from baseball to peewee football and high school soccer.

The protests escalated this past weekend after President Trump encouraged owners of NFL
teams to fire players who refused to stand during the national anthem. Ben Watson, a tight end
for the Baltimore Ravens, was one of the players who protested this past weekend. Obviously,
the name-calling is something we don't [stand] for, he said, but even to imply that we don't
have the right to express ourselves in that way is something that we really took to heart. Entire
teams refused to come onto the field for the anthem; others knelt en masse. For the first time
since the beginning of the protest, team owners and coaches linked arms and protested with their
players as a show of collective action to shine attention on the original message: the unjust
killing of people of color and the lack of accountability for police officers who commit these
acts.

How is this form of protest connected to protests from the past?


#TakeAKnee has direct ties to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. For example, the
civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, was effective in large part because of its public
nature. Television viewers around the world could see nonviolent protesters being brutalized by
police officers using water hoses, dogs, and billy clubs. The same goes for peaceful protesters in
Selma. In both of these moments, the catalyst for change was television. Today, much of Sunday
television is dominated by full-day coverage of NFL games on major networks and sports
channels. Todays protests, much like those of the past, are meant to encourage meaningful
dialogue and action by making viewers uncomfortable. As with protests of the past, that
discomfort isnt a bad thing.
Backlash to the civil rights activism often led to threats and very real acts of violence, surges in
white supremacist ideals and imagery, and an outpour of us versus them rhetoric. Today,
resistance comes in the forms of demanding protesters be fired and changing the narrative of the
protest to be about the American flag and U.S. troops and veterans, as opposed to police brutality
and injustice against people of color.

Protests have almost always been met with resistance. For example, a 1961 Gallup poll found
that 61 percent of respondents disapproved of the Freedom Rides, and 57 percent believed that
civil rights demonstrations hurt the integration cause. In many ways, that resistance is the point.
Change usually occurs through these clashes of ideals. Civil rights activism of the past shares an
underlying theme with todays activism: Injustice can only be ignored for so long before
everyone has to face it, whether its on the nightly news or during a Sunday NFL broadcast.