NFL anthem protest reignites fierce debate

Both politics and sports are now inseparably tied together. Some people argue that we must keep sports out of politics and vice versa, but the fact of the matter is: it’s too late. It is the contentious climate in which we live. Sports, politics and social culture are all tightly intertwined. 

We see this, most prevalently and recently, in the National Football League. This is a story that has become more and more pervasive over the last 18 months. 

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 preseason; since then, it has become a political statement dominating the league. Now, the national anthem draws as much attention as the game itself—if not more. 

Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem was intended to draw attention to and protest inequality for minorities in the United States, especially regarding police brutality, according to Kaepernick. At practice following his initial protest, he wore socks that depicted pigs in police uniforms. 

Since then, the movement has grown in number of participants and scope, as the gesture now seems to represent a wide range of issues. 

For some, the protest is still against inequality. Others take view that the scope is greater—it is a voice against systematic oppression and, to others, an act against the country that allows it. Another perspective is thatit is simply a way to support their teammates in times of need. Either way, the whole situation is polarizing. 

Some fans see this act as disrespectful, claiming that kneeling during the national anthem is insulting to the men and women who fight under the American flag overseas. Others see it as necessary and an exercise of the very freedom for which they are fighting.

Systematic oppression in this country is something that is historical, ongoing and cannot be denied. In the same vein, the sacrifice and bravery that our armed forces show in the name of our country is another thing that cannot be denied—and the national anthem is a representation of that. 

Contrast makes us see each side much more clearly. We see players and fans on both sides standing or kneeling for what they believe. The interesting dynamic, however, is the similarity that is often difficult to see, given that the subject is so polarizing. 

New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, who is also a naval officer, stood at attention during the national anthem, while many of his teammates kneeled behind him. In many ways, they were fighting for the same thing: liberty. Cardona represented the freedom that he fought for while his teammates conditioned it. 

One of the biggest stories of the weekend surrounded the Pittsburgh Steelers. Only offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva left the locker room for the national anthem, while his teammates and coaches stayed behind. He is an army ranger who served multiple tours in Afghanistan. The values and freedom that he fought for—ones he thought necessary to stand for—were conditioned by his teammates in the locker room. 

Who we are shapes how we see the world and our country. Some see the issue differently than others, but it is in the contrast of these displays that some common ground also becomes visible.u

 Former army ranger and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva was the only player on his team to stand for the national anthem before their game Sunday Sept. 24. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Former army ranger and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva was the only player on his team to stand for the national anthem before their game Sunday Sept. 24. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)