In 1814, during the battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key huddled in a cell at the bottom of a British prison ship scrawling out what would, when paired with music from John Stafford Smith, become the Star-Spangled Banner – the national anthem of the United States of America.
In August 2016, quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench while the anthem played before an NFL preseason game for the San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick’s abstaining from standing during the anthem came about as a means of protest brought on by a series of unfortunate deaths due to altercations between African-Americans and police across the U.S., tying to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The protest went unnoticed for two games, before a photo from Jennifer Lee Chan of the Niners Nation fan blog showed the quarterback sitting on the bench during the 49ers’ third preseason game of 2016.
Soon after, Kaepernick switched to kneeling rather than sitting because he felt it was more respectful to American military veterans.
In America, the NFL has the largest fanbase in American sports, and like in many professional sports, the U.S. government pays the NFL just like any other advertiser, with the goal to encourage young people to enter into the armed forces.
This is a P.R. campaign found in many sports. At one point, the U.S. Marines even had their own car in NASCAR races.
The national anthem, like the flag and the bald eagle, is a symbol of American patriotism and an allegory for those who served in the armed forces. They act as physical representations for veterans’ feelings of patriotism, and reminders of service given and sacrifices made.
It seems pretty obvious why veterans have such a strong and emotional connection to things like the national anthem.
So, some 200 years after Key penned the words, it stands to reason that if someone does something veterans perceive as disrespectful to the anthem, they’ll be upset. Regardless of Kaepernick’s switch from sitting to kneeling, many still feel that anything other than standing during the playing of the national anthem is a sign of disrespect.
By season’s end last winter, many likely hoped there would be an end to the protests, but that didn’t happen, as the current NFL season has seen a wide expansion of players “taking a knee” during the anthem. Along the way, some players also said the point of the protests have changed from individuals making statements to teams as a whole standing, or kneeling, in a show of unity.
But President Trump began to comment on the situation via his usual platform, Twitter, saying things like “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…. our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
As with many things Trump is known to say, these statements quickly fanned the flames of controversy, rather than address head-on the real issue (police tactics/relationships).
Now, we are left with a group of players who make millions upon millions of dollars trying to use their slice of the spotlight to make a statement; a president who, rather than finding an amicable way to resolve the situation, taunts the participants instead; and veterans, who have fought, and endured horrors and often, brushes with death.
This is a situation that begs to be resolved, because – facts faced – regardless of what players “intended” to do, they are being disrespectful.
Also, regardless of how much Trump belittles their grievances, the players are expressing a real concern that deserves some real answers.
First things first: Representatives from the teams need to come together and find a better way to help this cause without disrespecting veterans. (In fact, some NFL teams have already launched community outreach efforts. Among them: the Seattle Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund.)
The government and the NFL, regardless of their positions on player protests, need to step up, too, because both are losing face the longer these protests continue. Neither organization has handled this situation properly or completely – although NFL owners and players have met to talk things out.
We encourage these players to end this anthem “boycott,” because this has quickly turned from the public viewing them as workers protesting a perceived serious injustice, to instead viewing them as the all-too-familiar “overpaid pro athlete” extorting their employers (and fans) for more money or more glory.
The focus should be on innovation, bridging programs to connect underprivileged communities with police, or even funding better police training for officers to better defuse the situations that too often lead to the use of deadly force.
Regardless of what all parties involved choose to do, they should move quickly.
This is not the only sport in the world, and there are already plenty of signs people have tired of the conflict and changed the channel.