National Anthem protests lose focus

Myles Watkins,
Staff Writer

During week three of the National Football League season, every team, players, and coaches included, peacefully protested the national anthem by kneeling, locking arms or staying in the locker room at halftime.

The origins of this protest go back to last season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick received national attention for kneeling during the anthem.

“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick told reporters on Aug. 28. “To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s a significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

This is why kneeling during the national anthem started, to protest “a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” according to Kaepernick.

With this context, it is clear that the peaceful protests have become skewed from its origin.

Pittsburg Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin and his team did not participate during the anthem instead choosing to stay in the locker room Sept. 24.

“These are very divisive times for our country, Tomlin told reporters after the game. “For us, as a football team, it’s about us remaining solid. We’re not going to be divided by anything said by anyone. That’s the thing that I posted to our guys: That if you feel the need to do anything, I’m going to be supportive of that. As Americans, you have that right. But whatever we do, we’re going to do 100 percent, we’re going to do it together.”

The Dallas Cowboys locked arms before the anthem on Sept. 25 and after the game, wide receiver Dez Bryant stated, “I feel like that’s the true definition of unity. Trump can’t divide this.”

Bryant has been one of the more outspoken players in the league during his career and this issue has been no different for the superstar wideout. ““I think sports show the perfect example of unity,” Bryant told reporters following the game. “It’s not just black NFL players, it’s different races. I feel like that was a clear shot at Trump, sitting on that knee like that because you just can’t do that.”

Even Jerry Jones, the outspoken owner of the Cowboys stated that, “Our players wanted to make a statement about unity and we wanted to make a statement about equality. They were very much aware that statement, when made or when attempted to be made in and a part of the recognition of our flag, cannot only lead to criticism but also controversy.”

Equality, unity, solidarity, and togetherness are great intangible qualities for a team to have and protest for, but what happened about the institutional oppression and racism Kaepernick originally took a knee for? Something happened over the weekend that woke up the protester in NFL players, coaches and owners. It wasn’t a leaked domestic violence video, a great speech about American racism and oppression or how Puerto Rico still has no power after two hurricanes hit there over the last month. All it took was a couple tweets from agent orange himself, President Donald Trump, to fuel the protests of NFL Teams.

The president expressed his displeasure with the NFL protests of the anthem through Twitter on Sept. 24 and 25.

“Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their national Anthem or the Country. NFL Should change the rule,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 24. “So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!”

What is clear is that the tangerine tornado is not trying to bring people together and has not tried to do so while in his days as celebrity-in-chief. Trump has done his best to stir the pot of American discourse and separate Americans from conversing about issues that really plague our nation.

For example, his statements about the protests show that he wants to divide Americans not build bridges of understanding and communication.

“Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our Flag!” Trump tweeted. “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”

I dislike when Trump is right, but the moment he threw his hat in the ring with his tweets, the protests strayed from anti-oppression to anti-Trump.

Protesting something on Sunday during the NFL season could be meaningful, but now we aren’t talking about the root of the original kneeling protests; race, oppression and social justice.

Oakland native and Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch was seen wearing a  “Trump Versus Everybody” t-shirt as he walked into the locker room before his game on Oct. 1, one Sunday after the mass protest. This action showed specifically what he was thinking when kneeling, he was against the president not what the protest was originally about.

This protest is not about if first amendment rights should be granted by NFL owners, it’s not about respecting the flag or our anthem, it’s not about respecting the military and it’s not about who sits, stands, stretches or kneels. It is also not about trump; It’s about Americans being treated unfairly in this country for centuries and how can we come together to solve this issue.

Are we so out of touch with reality that we think that social media can solve the world’s issues?

Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi sent out tweets instead of giving speeches. Imagine if only 1,000 people went to the march on Washington and the other 90,000 watched it through snapchats and youtube clips.

Social media culture has convinced people that social justice can happen without leaving the confines of your home, however, until all the virtual words take the form of actual donations and spoken words, nothing will change.

Don’t be mistaken, I believe protests are an amazing way to get a message across multiple platforms effectively while allowing for coverage of the issue. Adversely, people that protest need to be literate in the reasoning for why they protest to allow the message they want to be highlighted.

The protests over the weekend were not about race and social justice for oppressed Americans, it was simply a way to cause a reaction out of the president and claim a moral high ground over an individual that we already knew is volatile and lacks moral character.  

But along with fighting racism at the forefront, we need to protest what the president is doing, not just what he is saying. This is where the line in the fictional sand has to be drawn. We know Trump is going to tweet and we can’t stop that. What we can do is stop legislation and executive orders from being placed and signed.

If NFL players, coaches and executives want to protest something, protest the stripping of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) so that undocumented children can stay in school and work in the U.S. Or protest the lack of action to help the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico get supplies and aid from the mainland.

Stop protesting the man, protest the where his message and actions meetup.

If they don’t want to protest issues that are hurting America, just don’t protest at all or say what you are exactly protesting for. We all know the people don’t like the president, but at some point we have to start being constructive about that situation instead of adding to the destruction Trump causes.

We are building our own walls to defend against Trump’s attacks rather than using the bricks to build walls to block his legislation. These protests haven’t been about race, they’ve been to protest Trump. Until they become about an actual issue, Kaepernick’s protest will be clouded and silenced.

While Trump’s presidency has only been a few short months, racism in America has been around for centuries.

Shame on all people that are more worried and concerned about a couple tweets Trump sent out rather than the message that racial inequality needs to end within the justice system and that Kaepernick lost his career because he spread this message.

A man became a social martyr for all minorities in the country but we will only remember the stuff our unpopular has president said.

It makes me wonder, are people against Trump or racism?