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Players Protest in the NFL



Responses, reflections, and reactions from the nation

Little else gets as much attention as the National Football League every Monday, Thursday, and Sunday of football season. Americans across the country grab some friends, beers, and maybe even a 7-layer dip, to escape into what has become America’s pastime. However, in recent months the NFL has seen a downward trend in viewership, which some observers attribute to the National Anthem protests that have become a focal point of attention over the last year.

The trend began back in August 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick first sat on the bench during the National Anthem. With Kaepernick’s protest came a great deal of controversy, with many arguing that he should find another way to make himself heard without protesting our nation’s colors. Shortly thereafter he was reportedly persuaded by a former Green Beret to engage in what he thought would be a more respectful form of protest: to kneel rather than to sit.

Initially many players took to kneeling after the example of Kaepernick, such as many African American players during the height of racial controversies in the United States. However, over time the protests have evolved and taken various shapes and forms. So far, over the course of the 2017 season, during the National Anthem, teams and individuals have chosen to remain in the locker room, to kneel, to lock arms, or to even raise a fist, reminiscent of the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute.

In the eyes of the protestors and their supporters, the protests call attention to racial inequality and police brutality. Kaepernick told reporters, “We have a lot of people that are oppressed. We have a lot of people that aren’t treated equally, that aren’t given equal opportunities. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed.” He went on to say: “There are a lot of issues that need to be talked about…I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

However, others believe that this form of protest, though constitutionally protected, is inappropriate and disrespectful, especially towards those who have fought and given their lives for our freedom. More superficially, many fans have expressed their displeasure at the politicization of sports. They feel it is inappropriate for players to use their celebrity status for political attention, and are generally upset that their leisure time has been inundated with the contentious political atmosphere they seek to escape.

On the other hand, those who support the protests see them as the players’ duty to use their status to effect change and raise awareness. To them, it is a way for players to express their views and make a public statement in support of the oppressed.

Not all players are on board the protests. Some players have refused to participate in their team’s protests. Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys knelt in solidarity with his teammates prior to the anthem but verbally qualified his actions, explaining, “I’ll stand for the anthem and put my hand over my heart until the day I die.”

In late September, the conflict escalated after President Donald Trump engaged the issue on Twitter. Last week, Trump posted a series of tweets drawing attention to the NFL’s suffering ratings and criticizing players, teams, and administrators for the protests. He called for those players who kneel to be fired, and for the NFL to ban such a protest, writing,“…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” and, “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!”

Though the number of players kneeling dropped significantly this past week, from 300 in Week 3, to only 52 in Week 4, coaches and owners are still grappling with what to do. The NFL has not chosen to set any league-wide regulations as of yet. Instead, each coaching staffs and owners are independently setting guidelines for their teams.  

The NFL faces a difficult challenge—they must achieve a delicate balance between allowing players to speak their minds and exercise their First Amendment Rights, and also maintaining a level of respect and unity within the league. Teams must decide whether this fight is worth fighting or if it is more important to appease disgruntled fan-bases.

Keenan White is a junior majoring in political science and history, with a minor in constitutional studies. She was, in fact, named after Keenan Hall. To talk with her about that contact her at Keenan.M.White294@nd.edu.

Lukas Cepkauskas is a junior studying chemical engineering. He is the president of a dorm that his girlfriend is named after. You can contact him at Lukas.R.Cepkauskas.1@nd.edu.

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