I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. – James A. Baldwin
This week, National Football League (NFL) owners unanimously came to an agreement on the “Take a Knee” controversy, approving a policy that requires all players on the football field to stand during the national anthem. Players are permitted to stay in the locker room during the anthem but sitting or kneeling on the field could result in a fine.
Since 2016, the “Take a Knee” movement has been a way for football players to raise awareness for important issues. As they kneel or sit out the national anthem, the athletes are protesting issues like American police brutality and racial discrimination in front of millions. According to former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who helped lead the movement, he protested the anthem because he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
The movement has had its fair share of criticism and controversy as many Americans claim that taking a knee is “unpatriotic” and “disrespectful.” President Donald Trump even went as far to say that players “have to stand proudly for the national anthem” and “maybe shouldn’t be in the country.”
The solution that the NFL created has been praised as a compromise – players are not obligated to stand, but those who stay on the field do. However, this agreement is only stifling the freedom of expression and protest of players that do choose to take a knee. The organization is forcing protesters out of sight and into locker rooms, where their pleas for action will go unheard. They’re threatening players who want to exercise their right to protest with hefty fines and consequences.
America is more than the superficial symbols of an inanimate sheet of cloth and an old-fashioned song. By forcing players to “respect” the flag and the anthem, the NFL is only encouraging blind patriotism. It is exaggerating the importance of traditional symbols in an attempt to show love for a country in an empty way while simultaneously ignoring the calls for progress and equality that is interwoven in the fabric of the country. It’s wholeheartedly praising the country without recognizing its faults and possible improvements.
America represents the promise of change, equality, and diversity. It is a country born out of discontent and protests over an unjust government as the founding fathers hungered for representation and progress.
Players like Kaepernick are only continuing their legacy as they call for racial and social equality in an attempt to bring those historical American values to true fruition.
After all, true patriotism is not cheering on symbols while trampling over the ideas of progress and fairness that they represent. It’s not about feeling a swell of pride when the anthem starts blaring or saluting the flag that flies high above. It’s about promoting the ideals and values that a country stands for and relentlessly fighting to maintain those ideals and values in the face of controversy and backlash.
Photo by James Connolly on Unsplash