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November 4, 2016
By Michael Doulas, Hersey
The long, historic relationship between athletes and protesting has been reignited recently. In August, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a stand by not standing during the national anthem at football games as a way to protest the treatment of black individuals in the United States. Kaepernick explained his motivation for the protest: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “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.”
By September, other athletes were starting to follow Kaepernick’s lead. Fellow NFL players Eric Reid, Brandon Marshall and Jeremy Lane, among others, chose to take a knee during the anthem. USA soccer member Megan Rapinoe also chose to kneel during the anthem, sparking controversy among the soccer world.
There has been harsh criticism for these athletes, most notably coming from the NFL and US Soccer. Despite the encouragement to stop, they have persisted, although a number of athletes have instead chose to protest in less controversial ways, such as raising a fist during or linking arms during the anthem.
The question is, should athletes be able to protest like this?
There are those who say yes, anyone should have the right to protest, otherwise it is a violation of the 1st Amendment. But then there are those who say no, protesting the national anthem is morally wrong and disrespectful to those who have served our country.
Athletes have been protesting for a long time. Runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested by raising their fists in the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City while the national anthem played, and Muhammad Ali also protested against violence by avoiding America’s military draft in Vietnam during the late ’60s. Similarly to Kaepernick, basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was nearly suspended in 1996 for religiously protesting the anthem by sitting while it was performed.
The links between athletes and protesting is long and complicated, but one constant throughout the protesting is the harsh criticism of the athletes that follows. Carlos and Smith were banned from the US Olympic team, Ali was briefly stripped of his heavyweight title, and countless other athletes, including some less-known ones, have been suspended/dismissed from teams, publicly ridiculed and sometimes even violently threatened.
Yet despite the perpetual, troubling mess that athlete protests are, they have at times been beneficial to our society. Most famously, Jackie Robinson felt that being forced to honor the anthem and salute the American flag was wrong. He wrote in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made:
There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
The contributions made by Robinson and other black pioneers helped spark the civil rights movement, and the current case going on with Kaepernick is quite reminiscent of the protests that were made in the 20th centuries. Like it or not, protests by athletes help our country because those with a high level of fame are heard the most; the impacts of athlete protests have reverberated through the rest of society.
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