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The Trailblazer

Take a Knee

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NFL teams across the league like the Dolphins took a knee during the National Anthem.

NFL teams across the league like the Dolphins took a knee during the National Anthem.

NFL teams across the league like the Dolphins took a knee during the National Anthem.

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Standing up for what you believe in has been a staple in the American culture since the birth of this country. Some of the most iconic moments in American history have stemmed from a group of people getting up, and saying “That’s not right”. Time and time again, American people have exercised their right to be an American, and believe what they want to believe, and not have to worry about losing their job, or becoming a social outcast. The very first amendment that is listed upon the founding ideals of this country is the freedom of speech and the protection of your own beliefs.

Racism is as old as America is. The very roots and foundation of our country were built upon the backs of African slaves, stolen from their home country, and forced into labor in North America. The slaves were free labor, and helped build the United States economy. The atrocities that these slaves endured are unimaginable. They were not even looked at as humans by the white slave owners, rather property that can be bought and traded in a market. It got to a point where our own country went to war with ourselves in order to settle the slave debate, and the humanitarian crisis all throughout America. 620,000 Americans, a little less than half of all American war causalities throughout history, came from the civil war. 620,000 people died primarily because of the slavery argument, and the bitter racism that was oozing from our country. 100 years later, the civil rights movement in the United States argued that all men were created equal, and no person should be discriminated by the color of their skin. The movement is one of the key turning points in American history, an ultimate example of standing up for what’s right. What American heroes like Martin Luther King Junior did in those years to demand the equal treatment of all people, would change the course of American history for the rest of time. You would think, in the year 2017, 165 long years after the last bullet was fired in the civil war, and 54 years after Dr. King’s march on Washington, that America would finally accept that all men are created equal. And that, would be where you are dead wrong.

 

In the past week, there has been an ongoing war between the players of the NFL and the President of the United States, Donald Trump. It came to be when in the 2015-16 NFL season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. It was not loud or disruptive, rather him exercising his American right to not rise for the National Anthem, when he felt people of color and all American minorities were not being treated fairly.

This set the NFL ablaze, and everyone had their stance on the issue. Views ranged from believing he was an American Hero, to people thinking he was unpatriotic. He continued to kneel for the entire season, and when the season came to a close, he was a free agent. Colin Kaepernick is without a doubt, a top 32 quarterback in the National Football league, and countless teams would benefit from having him on their roster. And yet, it is the end of September, and Kaepernick has yet to even receive an offer from a single team in the NFL. The obvious reason is his kneeling of the National Anthem. NFL owners across the league are too scared to put their team’s and their own reputation on the line and to give him a chance.

Although Kaepernick was unemployed, life goes on. The season started and people across the country began to forget about Kaepernick as a whole. Although there were a few players on a few teams knelt for the anthem, it seemed to be accepted as a new way of life and a new tradition for the league. And then, of course, like every other minor issue in the country, that has no true effect on the people of the United States, President Trump had to get involved.

On November 8th 2016, Donald Trump shocked the world. He had managed to beat out Secretary Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, and won the job of President of the United States. It will go down in history as one of the most controversial and unimaginable political upsets to ever happen. Supposed billionaire and reality T.V. star Donald Trump decided one day that he should run for President of the United States without a single minute of political experience.  His ridiculous temper and unheard of hot takes on political issues fired up a part of America that would prove lethal to Hillary Clinton. The uneducated, white man came by the boatload to support Trump, and followed the man through some of the more unimaginable campaign problems to ever arise. Donald Trump was fully caught on tape, explaining how he liked to sexually harass women. He refused to release his tax returns to the American people, a tradition that dates back to 1969. So who knows what Trump is trying to hide? Is he not a billionaire after all? Does he donate to charity? Does he even pay his taxes?  So when President Trump, with all of the possible American issues he could chose to tackle, he decided the best place to start, would be a controversy with the National Football league, that has been relatively unheard of for about a year. That right there, sums up the presidency of Donald Trump pretty well.

On Friday, September 22nd, Trump went on a standard Trump-ian rant at a rally in Alabama, calling for all NFL players who do not stand and honor the flag, to be fired. Using vulgar language and fiery claims, Trump started a war against the most valuable sports company in the world. His exact quote that he used when demanding the firing of all protestors was, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”. The president of these United States, the one who was elected by the people of this country, just completely defied everything that America was founded upon. In what sense would the “American” thing to do be to fire anyone that takes a stand for what’s right?

In some senses, there is nothing more American than refusing to stick to the status quo, when something you feel strongly isn’t being respected.  America is a democracy, a self-governing country. There is no one higher power we must all believe in and follow his every move.

Following the controversial claims from Trump, the sports world was sent into a spiral. Players primarily from the NFL and the NBA came out and defiantly condemned Trump and his opinions. Superstar point Steph Curry, and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, have rejected the invitation to meet the president at the white house, a tradition customary to the champions of all professional sports in the United States. Upon hearing the news that Curry and the warriors will not be attending, President Trump, never being able to admit defeat, decides to “revoke” their invitation, although Curry and the Warriors had already made it very clear they will not be attending. This removal of an invitation created some backlash from some of the biggest names in sports, specifically superstar LeBron James. James went on to tweet, “U bum @StephenCurry30 [Steph Curry’s Twitter Handle] already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” James is not only one of the best athletes of all time, but one of the most famous people in the world today. His word carries weight with quite a few people. He has a very good level of social awareness and understands how people follow and analyze his every word, and that when he says something like calling the President a bum, he really means it.

Then came Sunday morning and the beginning of week three of the NFL season. From the beginning of the early 9:30 a.m. game played between the Jaguars and Ravens, it was clear that Trump’s words had struck a chord with the players and the owners of the NFL. Beginning with Shahid Khan, the Pakistani-American billionaire who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars. When the national anthem was playing, he wasn’t up in the owner’s box, or in some private lounge, he was down on the field, linking arms with his players during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. He is showing not only Trump that he will not follow his claim of firing players that are protesting, but also saying he will stand by his players. He does not want his own employees resenting him, and this was a bold move that proves to the players on the Jaguars that their boss is socially aware and willing to put himself on the line for the good of the players.

The NFL, which is a predominantly African-American league, is currently experiencing an identity crisis. Battling issues, ranging from domestic abuse to brain-crippling diseases that cut countless years off player’s lives; politics can’t help but creep its way into the stadium. ‘

The argument of whether athletes should “Stick to Sports” is now more prevalent than ever. Athletes in all sports in this country have a very interesting platform. Many are household names unlike any other line of work in the world. Their every single move is tracked, reported, and analyzed. People keep on claiming that this protest is just inconvenient and the national anthem is not the right time or place to carry out your beliefs, but ultimately, that is the point of a protest. They are meant to be inconvenient. They are meant to make you stop and think, and understand why they are taking a stand on a certain issue.   

Lost in all of this kneeling debate is the reminder that these athletes, although they are athletic specimens, are still people and citizens of the United States. They are just as entitled to beliefs as any other person in the country. Although many consider them just entertainers, that does not and should not deny them the right to a voice on issues they feel strongly about. The endless debate will always be where and when is the right place for these athletes to protest. In the end, they will always be viewed as entertainers, not politicians. Many people believe they should just keep their mouth shut, collect their million dollar checks, and play the game. But that is ultimately the issue with the popular thought process from the people that do not believe in these protests. Kaepernick was not getting up and screaming during the anthem, disrupting the song and making it any less enjoyable for anyone else. He was strictly going about his business in a way where he felt he was sending a message. But is it the point really getting across?

The predominant cause of these NFL players kneeling for the anthem is to protest the social injustices they feel minorities in the united states receive. They kneel and they raise fists. They lock arms and hold hands. But is the argument they are starting the right one? Is their point really getting across? This is getting plenty of media coverage, but is it because of what they are protesting? Or the protest itself? The players don’t want to get into an argument on whether standing for the anthem is disrespectful or not, they want to talk about the racism, and the shootings, the violence and the injustice. That is what is getting lost in translation. Too much focus is being put on the actual protest itself, not why they are protesting. Analysts and media personnel can sit there for hours on end and discuss the pros and cons of kneeling for a song sung before a sports game, but not why they are doing it. No one wants to talk about the actual issue at hand, and this is where this protest needs to take it one step further. Now they have their platform. They have their moment in the spotlight, now say what you want to say. Say the things that millions of people have been trying to get across to the people running our country.

The solution for the anti-kneel people is simple: if you don’t want to see them kneel, don’t watch the NFL. They have every right to protest within reason, and this is their platform that they have chosen to protest. But for all of those people that are saying they will boycott the NFL because of this kneeling, you are just oblivious to what is going on in the NFL right now. Of all the things facing the National Football League, whether it’s players beating their wives, the abuse of drugs, the crime, the DUIs, the concussions that make these 40-year-old ex-NFL players feel like they have the body of an 80-year-old, this is what’s going to make you stop watching the NFL? The fact that a few athletes are making a peaceful political protest, in a non harmful, non interfering way? Their protest in no way stops you from enjoying your moment with during the National Anthem. They aren’t distracting the viewers in any way. The NFL has much more serious problems than a peaceful protest. According to SportsIllustrated.com, “From Jan. 1, 2012, to Sept. 17, 2014, 33 NFL players were arrested on charges involving domestic violence, battery, assault and murder”. In two years, there more players arrested due to domestic abuse, batter, assault murder as teams in the NFL. Every single team in the NFL could have 1 player arrested because of this cause, and there would still be another player left over. And people want to sit here and debate the politics of the national anthem? According to the USA Today NFL Player arrest database, 34 NFL athletes were arrested in 2017. These are cases of the NFL’s own actually breaking laws and rules. Not peaceful protesters going against the unwritten rules. Nowhere is there a law that everyone must stand for the national anthem, but there is very specific rules on things like drugs, DUI’s and guns. But no, the protesters are criminals, and they should be the ones that are fired, while the real criminals are paid millions and millions of dollars and learn nothing.

But why did Trump decide now was the time to go against the NFL? The answer is clear. The president is taking these ill-advised shots because he wanted to shift the focus of his American people from his horribly underwhelming first year in office.  In the end, Trump just wanted to make a splash and appeal to his rapidly declining base. And what does his base believe in? Nationalism. And there is nothing more nationalist than the national anthem. He is looking to start a fight and create the wrong argument. He will sit there and tweet his nonsense tweets about the protest, but will never talk about what it exactly is they are protesting. Why won’t he talk about it? Because at this point, just as much as they are protesting the social injustices, they are protesting him. They are protesting his utter incompetence as a leader of this country. His hateful words and complete disregard for the wellbeing of the people that do not agree with every word he says. He will stick by the people that will follow him to the grave, because that is where they are all heading. It wouldn’t be a regular morning if Trump did not wake up and antagonize a new group of people. One day it’s the fake news media, the next day it’s North Korea, the day after that it’s the National Football League. He will make these ridiculous claims with no prior knowledge and no political strategy behind it, realize he made a mistake, and distract the American people with a new issue or problem that is the next big thing.

No, the NFL will not suddenly collapse on itself and cease to exist because of a few Donald Trump tweets. The season will keep going. The players will continue to speak out against racism and brutality. And by the end of the week, there will be a new Trump hysteria that the media will have to shift their focus to. That is what is wrong with this president, he will rattle off 4 different “hot topic” issues in the span of a week, and follow up on none of them, because come the week after, he has already moved on to the next scandal, or issue facing this country. The NFL deserves a lot of credit for how they handled the situation. From commissioner Goodell, to the owners, to the players. They all stood their ground and refused to be pushed over by the bully some people call our President. They have a certain set of beliefs and stayed true to themselves. Will the NFL take a ratings hit? It is hard to judge considering even without the protests the NFL and football in general is on a steady decline in both viewership and youth participation. Not many parents in this protective day and age want their kids running around banging their brains around, risking their health unlike any other sport in the country. Football is on a noticeable crash course, as the risk just is nowhere near worth the reward. Your brain is the most important thing in life, and less and less people are willing to risk it for football.

So, let them kneel. Let them protest. Let their voices be heard. Allow them to exercise their guaranteed right as an American to the right of freedom of speech. They are not harming anyone in any way or putting anyone in danger. They are standing up for what they believe in. Let them be Americans. Maybe some of this will rub off on other people in this country, showing them what it means to be an American. America is a country that is always changing, always being adjusted. So to all those NFL players out there who are being criticized: take a knee.

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