REFUSING TO STAND For the National Anthem
Top 3 Pros and Cons
People who support refusing to stand for the national anthem argue that athletes are justified in using their celebrity status to bring attention to important issues, and that refusing to stand for the national anthem is an appropriate and effective method of peaceful protest. People who disagree argue that football games are an inappropriate place to engage in political protest, and that not standing for the national anthem shows disrespect for the country and those who proudly support it, some with their lives.
The 2017 NFL pre-season began with black players from the Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, and Philadelphia Eagles kneeling or sitting during the anthem with support of white teammates. On Aug. 21, 2017, twelve Cleveland
Browns players knelt in a prayer circle during the national anthem with at least four other players standing with hands on the kneeling players’ shoulders in solidarity, the largest group of players to take a knee during the
anthem to date. Jabrill Peppers, a rookie safety, said of the protest, “There’s a lot of racial and social injustices in the world that are going on right now.
We just decided to take a knee and pray for the people who have been affected and just pray for the world in general… We were not trying to disrespect the flag or be a distraction to the team, but as men we thought we had the right to stand up for what we believed in, and we demonstrated that.” Seth DeValve, a tight end for the Browns and the first white NFL player to kneel for the anthem, stated, “The United States is the greatest country in the world. And it is because it provides opportunities to its citizens that no other country does. The issue is that it doesn’t provide equal opportunity to everybody, and I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who
wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there’s things in this country that still
need to change.”
On Friday, Sep. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump stated his opposition to NFL players kneeling during the anthem:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a
bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!” The statement set off a firestorm on both sides of the debate.
Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, said of Trump’s comments, “Divisive comments like these demonstrate
an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand
the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
The controversy continued over the weekend as the President continued to tweet about the issue and others
contributed opinions for and against kneeling during the anthem. On Sunday, Sep. 24, in London before the first NFL game played after Trump’s comments, at least two dozen Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars
players knelt during the American national anthem, while other players, coaches, and staff locked arms, including Shad Khan, who is the only PakistaniAmerican Muslim NFL team owner. Throughout the day, some players, coaches, owners, and other staff kneeled or linked arms from every team except the Carolina Panthers. The
Pittsburgh Steelers chose to remain in the locker room during the anthem, though offensive tackle and Army Ranger veteran Alejandro Villanueva stood at the entrance to the field alone, for which he has since apologized. Both the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans teams stayed in their locker rooms before their game, leaving the field mostly empty during the anthem. The Seahawks stated, “As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem. We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.”
The controversy has jumped to other sports as every player on WNBA’s Indiana Fever knelt on Friday, Sep. 22 (though WNBA players have been kneeling for months); Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell kneeled on Saturday becoming the first MLB player to do so; and Joel Ward, of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, said he would
not rule out kneeling.
The country was still debating the issue well into the week, with Trump tweeting throughout, including on Sep. 26:
“The NFL has all sort of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!”
On May 23, 2018, the NFL announced that all 32 team owners agreed that all players and staff on the field shall
“stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem” or face “appropriate discipline.” However, all players will no
longer be required to be on the field during the anthem and may wait off field or in the locker room. The new rules were adopted without input from the players’ union.
When one believes the United States is not living up to its ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, refusing to stand for the national anthem is appropriate and justified.
Colin Kaepernick said, “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people
and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Many other athletes have since refused to stand for the national anthem for similar reasons.Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who also has knelt during the national anthem, said, “the message is I’m against social injustice… I’m not against the military or police or America at all.”
When a national figure such as an NFL player refuses to stand for the national anthem,
it shocks people into paying attention and generates conversation.
Many people were shocked and offended when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the resulting debate has continued as additional players joined the protest. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell originally disagreed with those actions, but later praised what he called a movement from protest to progress: “I truly
respect our players wanting to speak out and change the community… We want them to use that voice.” Social
media has given a voice to strong opinions on both sides, including members of the armed forces who express
support Kaepernick’s right to protest by posting under the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick.
Not standing for the national anthem is a legal form of peaceful protest, which is a First Amendment right.
President Obama said Kaepernick was “exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s
a long history of sports figures doing so.” The San Francisco 49ers said in a statement, “In respecting such
American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to
choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.” A letter signed by 35 US veterans stated
that “Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.”
The national anthem pays respect to the people who have risked their lives, been injured, or died defending the United States. Carole Isham, a great-great-great-granddaughter of the writer of the national anthem (Francis Scott Key) stated that “it just blows my mind that somebody like(Kaepernick) would do what he does to dishonor the flag of this country and the national anthem when we have young men and women overseas fighting for this country, people that have died for this country.” Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback, supported Kaepernick’s message but disagreed with the delivery: “[I]t’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.”
Not standing for the national anthem is an ineffective and counterproductive way to promote a
Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney said in a press conference: “I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team. I don’t think it’s good to use your team as the platform.” President Obama expressed concern that not standing for the national anthem can get in the way of the message: “As a general matter, when
it comes to the flag the national anthem and the meaning that holds for our men and women in uniform and those
who’ve fought for us — that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his [Kaepernick’s] deeper concerns
are.” Malcolm Jenkins, safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, supported Kaepernick’s message but said, “My grandfather
served [in the military]. And this is a country that I love. So, me not standing for the national anthem isn’t really going to get me the results that I want.”
Refusing to stand for the national anthem angers many and sows division in our country.
Kaepernick and others who have refused to stand for the national anthem have caused division among their teams,
their fans, and across the country. The Santa Clara police union hinted they would boycott providing security at
games after Kaepernick revealed his reasons for protesting the national anthem and wore socks depicting pigs in
police uniforms. Fans have been burning Kaepernick’s jersey to show their distaste for his actions. One video of
a jersey on fire posted on Facebook was captioned, “He says he’s oppressed making $126 million. Well, Colin,
here’s my salute to you.