A Bad Combination
The NFL represents “The National Football League,” which contains thirty-two professional American teams (“NFL Football Teams,” para 1). Over the past year to present time, there has been a lot of controversy within the league concerning a major political issue with select NFL players kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before kickoff. Kneeling is executed to represent a form of silent protest. The NFL players who are kneeling believe that there are prevailing issues in the United States that need to be brought to the public’s attention. According to the philosopher, Boxill, protest is meant to not only stop the injustice from happening, but to also show self-respect (Boxill, para 1). The injustices that the NFL players are silently protesting against during the playing of the national anthem, are police brutality and racial inequalities occurring in the United States. The issues behind the protest should be addressed, but the way the NFL is allowing players to kneel during a time which celebrates patriotism and the symbolic representation of our country, should not be allowed.
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The protest first began in the NFL when a player from the San Francisco 49ers sat on the benches during the playing of the national anthem at preseason games (Mindock, para 3). Later in the season, he changed to kneeling during the national anthem while his other teammates remained standing (para 4). Ever since the first player, Colin Kaepernick, kneeled during the anthem, it has started a widespread protest encouraging other players in the NFL to join. The reasons behind the protest, such as police brutality and racial inequalities, are extensive issues in the United States. According to the mapping of police violence, police have killed 1,079 people in the United States this year. Of these 1,079 people, 26 percent of those killed were of the African American race, which represents 13 percent of the American population (“Mapping Police Violence”). These statistics are well known and alarming to most. The NFL players felt that something needed to be done in order to bring the injustices to the public’s attention. As mentioned above, the protest itself is genuine, but the way it is being executed is exceptionally wrong and troubling. My first argument, is that the form of protest the NFL players are using shows disrespect towards the members of the military and the American flag because the national anthem is played during sporting events to display patriotism for the wars that were fought. The national anthem was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, which was a conflict between Great Britain and the United States, killing roughly 15,000 Americans (“Star Spangled Banner Lyrics,” para 2). By kneeling, the players are showing a lack of patriotism for our country and this draws attention away from their concept of protesting. Under Title 36 in the United States Code, Section 301 states, “all other person’s present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart” (“United States Code,” para 2). Although there is no federal punishment for violating the United States code, it shows overall disrespect towards the country. Many soldiers have lost their lives fighting for the freedom of the United States, and to military personnel, it may come off as very discourteous.
The first argument not only enrages the majority who serve in the military, but it also upsets the fans. The disrespectfulness fans perceive from the way the protest is performed, can lead to unintended consequences. Protesting in the public eye may lead to boycotts and un-peaceful events. Ever since the protest began, more security has been needed at the games to protect fans from violence that might occur due to the kneeling that takes place (“Refusing to Stand for the National Anthem,” para 8). Also, fans have been committing arson by burning the jerseys of players who promote the protest to show dislike (para 8). Not only is the kneeling making the audience feel uneasy, but causing them to lash out to also be heard.
My second argument, is that not standing up during the national anthem is a very ineffective way to promote a protest of injustice. Kneeling during the national anthem catches the viewers’ attention, but can be a major distraction (para 6). It can be a distraction to their teammates and can also cause internal team controversy for those who don’t agree with the style of protest. Not standing for the national anthem before the game, can get in the way of the main message they are trying to protest, which is police brutality and racial injustices. The national anthem stands for men and women who have fought for our country (para 5). Once people see a player kneel, it is hard for them to get past the perceived disrespect for the military personnel of the United States and listen to the deeper concerns of the protest. Many fans get distracted by the action the players are performing, not even realizing there is a bigger cause behind the action. Not only does it distract the players and the audience, but it takes away from the overall football game starting minutes after the kneeling occurs. In addition, the protest draws attention away from the actual reason people bought tickets, which was to view and enjoy the football game between two opposing teams.
There are many objections that you could use to rebuttal against the first argument. I think the best objection is that if one believes the United States is not holding up the foundations the country was established on, not standing during the playing of the national anthem is reasonable. The reason the protest was executed by kneeling, was because Kaepernick felt that his country wasn’t showing justice for all and was oppressing African Americans (para 3). He did not want to show pride in a country and flag that undermined police brutality and racial injustices, acting like these were not issues in the United States. Many other players now kneel during the national anthem for this reason. The players are not purposely trying to offend the military, police, or others who find it disrespectful, they are trying to bring recognition to the issues, so other people can be informed. Raising awareness of social injustice is their main target, not dishonoring those who have risked their lives for America (para 3).
Another major objection to the first argument could be that kneeling during the national anthem is protected by the First Amendment. The football players are exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest, bringing the issues of police brutality and racial injustices to the public’s attention. Legally, there was nothing wrong with Kaepernick’s form of protest. The players of the NFL have the right to speak out and make a statement about something they believe is unfair. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Staff, para 1). In addition, it is an individual’s choice whether or not he or she wishes to participate in standing for the national anthem. With the freedom of speech, comes the right to express your opinion peacefully with either direct words or symbolic actions without diminution, and that’s exactly what the NFL players are doing (“What Does Free Speech Mean?,” para 1).
The second argument emphasized that kneeling during the national anthem is not an effective way to promote and protest the injustice occurring in the United States. A possible response to this argument could be that kneeling is an effective way to promote the issues because it easily grabs people’s eyes on a platform that is viewed by millions of Americans. Kneeling is an unexpected action taken by the NFL players and it shocks the audience which makes them pay attention to the issues (para 6). This sparked other players to join Kaepernick in the kneeling because they realized the public would react, good or bad. Also, it created a conversation on social media and in the news. The protest spread like wildfire, and people were widely talking about it. On social media, there were those who took the NFL players’ side and others who did not agree with the form of protest. By grabbing the fans’ attention, they are able to speak out and voice their opinions on racial issues that needed to be displayed. Now that the public is more aware of the police brutality and racial injustices, actions can be taken to try to prevent those injustices from happening further.
The objection to the first argument was that refusing to stand during the anthem was justified if you feel that your country is not holding up the ideals it was founded on. The other objection to the first argument was that the right to peacefully protest is protected by the First Amendment. A response to these two objections could be that yes, NFL players are protected by the First Amendment, but if they are going to protest it should be done respectfully. The national anthem is repeatedly used to honor those who lost their lives or those who were injured while fighting for the United States. It is not something that should be belittled by a protest against totally separate prevailing issues. You gain self-respect from protesting injustices done to you (para 1). Through this form of protest, the NFL players are gaining self-respect, but are alienating others such as select military personnel and viewers who don’t agree with kneeling. The players are utilizing the First Amendment to proceed with their protest, and therefore can’t fully state that the United States is not holding up its ideals which is the reason why they kneel.
As for the second argument, the objection was that kneeling is an effective way to protest because it makes others notice and is widely seen by many. A response to this could be that kneeling does grab people’s attention, but it takes away from the game NFL players are paid to play. Adding politics to a professional sport, creates even more tension and possibly the loss of fans. There are more effective ways to protest that are more serene and reduce unintended consequences. The players could conduct a protest that can be heard and seen outside of the football game, or even spread the issues another way during the game. Several other ways the NFL players can speak out about the police brutality and racial injustice in the United States could be by wearing a piece of clothing, making a speech, or dedicating a color to the cause. Another alternative could be the NFL players kneeling before the national anthem playing begins and then standing back up, which shows solidarity without being divisive. If they used one of the other ways mentioned, people would not feel disrespected and attention would still be drawn to the present issues.
The protest against police brutality and racial injustices began by one NFL player kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. This created tension between fans and the players. Now, there are over 200 players kneeling for these issues and the number of players participating in the protest is growing. There are some who think the kneeling is justified and others who believe it is disrespecting our country and those who fought for the United States. Police brutality and racial injustice are major issues occurring throughout the country, and it is important for others to speak out on the issues they believe are corrupt. Due to the First Amendment, people have the right to freedom of speech with includes peaceful protest, which is what the NFL players are executing. Although protesting by kneeling during the national anthem is viewed by many as disrespectful and can cause viewers to have negative thoughts towards the NFL, players are proceeding with the protest. There is a significant reason behind the cause, but the form of protest could be conducted in a more efficient and less controversial way. The kneeling should not be allowed during the national anthem, so that there is less tension and miscommunication between the public and players. The protest should be executed in a different way in order to only draw full attention to the issues at hand.
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