Let Them Kneel, It’s Their Right

This past week the NFL has been at the center of attention for most of America, and it’s not because Tom Brady scored five touchdowns against the Texans.

While the GOAT leading the Patriots to win with seconds left against a Houston team fighting all out for its city sounds like the most patriotic thing ever, it is in the shadow of protests across the league by players attempting to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

These protests were started last year by Colin Kaepernick, who began to kneel during the national anthem at the start of games and was quickly joined by players across the NFL. This created discord amongst players and fans, but it was not bigger than the games. While some shunned Kaepernick, most glossed over it in favor of watching their favorite team win.

This all changed after President Trump spoke out against the players who chose to kneel in two tweets Saturday night.

After the tweets, the protests escalated from individual players to whole teams choosing to kneel during the anthem. Trump and supporters condemned those kneeling, saying they were unpatriotic and disrespecting the flag and by virtue those who fought and died for America.

Some teams decided not to go out at all for the anthem, with all of the Pittsburgh Steelers staying in the tunnel, besides Alejandro Villanueva, who served as an Army Ranger before joining the NFL. When Villanueva left the tunnel and stood alone, many Trump supporters raised up their arms in support, saying he was fighting against those who kneeled and sat.

This narrative is flawed however, and many veterans spoke in favor of Kaepernick and the players protesting. Villanueva even spoke on how he regretted leaving his team to stand by himself.  Villanueva doesn’t believe kneeling is offensive to those who served, saying, “I take no offense. I don’t think veterans at the end of the day take any offense. They actually signed up and fought so that somebody could take a knee and protest peacefully whatever it is that their hearts desire.”

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys decided to go about the protests another way, kneeling in solidarity before the anthem and standing with arms linked during it. While this at least seems like a compromise that can satisfy both sides, even this gesture was too much for President Trump and Cowboys fans who booed loudly when the team kneeled.

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The issue has been growing bigger and bigger and as Trump continues to throw attention at those in the NFL and other sports leagues, even four-star generals are speaking out in favor of the players’ protests.

Pushing against the President’s claims, Michael Hayden, a four-star general who served in the military for 39 years and went on to serve as national security adviser and head of the CIA, said that he disagreed with Trump’s statements.

“As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight…It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.” -Michael Hayden

It seems that Trump’s comments that the protesters’ actions were a slap in the fact to military were largely unsubstantiated, and nothing more than an attempt to raise an outcry over a public movement which the President has continually shunned. Although he should be unifying a country in turmoil, he has tried his hardest to divide the people of America.

Even Tom Brady, who has described Trump as a good friend of his, condemned Trump’s comments about those kneeling. “I thought it was just divisive,” Brady said during an interview with Boston radio WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” on Monday. “Like I said, I just want to support my teammates… I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me and it’s how I try to live every day.”

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As long as Trump continues to shout and tweet about things he doesn’t like, it is just going to promote them more. I doubt the protesters will stop because the President told owners to “fire them” for kneeling.  I don’t see this happening anyways, even if some owners did start cutting players for this peaceful protest, they would still be liable for the player’s guaranteed compensation. On top of that, I’m sure other owners would gladly pick up star players that were fired from their previous teams.

All in all, I believe the NFL is best left as a place where many different people can come together and enjoy a sport they love without all the politics. However, if players feel this stage is the best place they can peacefully protest and stand up (or kneel down) for what they believe in, then we have to let them have it. It’s their right, and those who fought for our country did so that they could have that choice.

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