Clarissa Kraayenbrink – sports editor
You’ve seen it: news about the NFL protests. You can hardly watch sports or even walk by a TV nowadays without seeing who the latest player is who has been kneeling during the national anthem.
It all started when Colin Kaepernick (then of the San Francisco 49ers) sat on the bench during the national anthem of a 49ers-Green Bay Packers preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016.
“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 said after the game. “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.”
Since then, numerous athletes – primarily NFL players – have sat or knelt during the anthem. The topic has really escalated this season. President Trump has even weighed in on the subject, just adding fuel to the fire. On Sept. 22, Trump said any athlete disrespecting the flag should be disciplined.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’” Trump said.
By Sept. 24, there was some form of protest happening at every NFL game around the nation. Some teams decided they would all kneel in unity during the anthem, some stood with interlocked arms showing support and some, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, decided not to decide by staying in the locker room during the anthem. The league, team owners and coaches had to send out statements before games explaining why they would act the way they did.
So what exactly is this protesting all about?
Despite what many people think, these players are not anti-Star-Spangled Banner or anti-America. Many are just looking for a way to bring attention to the racial injustices in this country. However, these players are getting paid to do a job – that is, performing on the gridiron – not to make a political statement.
Cory Van Gilst, Dordt College senior and avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, considered boycotting his favorite team because they boycotted the national anthem. But, he questions why players are doing this: is it to stand up for social injustices or is it to stand up against Trump?
“I don’t think anyone truly knows anymore,” Van Gilst said.
Van Gilst said he was disheartened with the recent protests. Sports and politics should be two separate entities, and sports are an escape from everyday life, according to Van Gilst. He says that now, players will be judged on how they act during the playing of the national anthem rather than how they perform on the field.
“Who are these people that think we care about their opinions?” Van Gilst said. “In all honesty, we just care about how well you can do your job. Which is what it should be, right?”
He points out that if another “regular” person was to start protesting at their job, they would eventually be fired. Go ahead and exercise your First Amendment right by expressing your views, Van Gilst says, but just do it off the field.
“That’s any American’s right; that’s any human right,” he said. “But doing it during a game, during the national anthem, has just created a lot of confusion and I’m disappointed with it all.”
But, any good argument has two sides to the story. Dordt College football team member Justin Banks says players are justified in their protesting. He said he tries to put himself in the players’ situation to see what he would do. It’s not something he personally would feel called to do, but he can see why players around the country are acting in this manner.
“I understand someone who would take that position to show the disrespect and disregard for African-Americans,” Banks said. “It just seems like people’s priorities are out of place.”
Banks says Kaepernick’s display that started all of this has at least opened people’s eyes to the mistreatment and injustice that’s been going on in America, which is what Kaepernick wanted. He wanted to spark meaningful conversations to get people talking and acting toward those who were being mistreated.
Well, it’s certainly gotten people talking.
As for the rest of the season, Van Gilst says we will continue to see more protesting, but he thinks we are going through the brunt of the controversy right now. Will there be players kneeling for the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in February? Sure, Van Gilst says. But the media buzz around it may die out before that.