The Spark Behind the Controversy 

When the national anthem gets played, the response has mostly been universal; everyone stands, looks to the flag, and places their right hand over their heart. This has been to respect the flag and the freedom that the flag represents through how our military has fought for that. However, in 2016, NFL player, Colin Kaepernick sparked a heated debate in America, by kneeling. While he, and other athletes, kept kneeling, despite the controversy to protest against brutality against blacks, the overall response was mostly critical. Four years later, a lot has changed due to one event; the anger exhibited after a cop knelt on George Floyd’s neck, killing him. More athletes are kneeling now, the general population understands why he and a select few other athletes were kneeling, and athletic commissioners are apologizing. However, the debate still remains, with critics still saying that it disrespects the flag. Despite critics saying that kneeling during the national anthem disrespects the flag, the movement of kneeling is less about the flag and is more about the show of support towards respecting black lives. 

Why Kneeling? 

The decision to kneel was not made to defy patriotism; it was made with historical thoughts in mind to protest against racial injustice and police brutality against minorities. Kneeling has long been a sign of reverence: a sign of respect, mourning, and support. It was seen at cemeteries in respect for the lives lost in the military, and Martin Luther King Jr. was seen kneeling with his supporters in remembrance of lives lost during the Civil Rights Movement. With the consistent unequal treatment to minorities in society, Colin Kaepernick, a black NFL quarterback with the historical significance in mind, knelt to protest that racial injustice he was feeling and to show support for others who were feeling that as well. He and others that decided to kneel throughout that 2017 NFL season were trying to demand change across our country in a peaceful manner.  

Potential Disrespect to the Flag 

That peaceful demand for change was not well received. Critics, like Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, have said that kneeling during the anthem is a sign of disrespect. They called the protest unpatriotic, saying that kneeling dishonors the work of our military that have fought for the freedom of our country. Thus, one must stand and face the flag to show respect to the military that fought for that flag. While they may not disagree with what Kaepernick is fighting for, they disagree with how he is doing it, calling his actions inappropriate. 

Other critics say that this debate takes away what they should be focused on; the NFL football season. The controversy over kneeling distracts fans from enjoying football, and coaches from focusing on the ball game at hand. Others have said that the military fighting for their lives for this country is a bigger cause than fighting for racial injustice. However, by making those claims, one is turning a blind eye to what is actually happening throughout our country. There are black Americans fighting for an equal right to live as they are being killed in the hands of police at a rate higher than whites. It is hard to celebrate freedom in a country that is not actually a free country for all. When innocent lives are on the line, it has to take priority over a game, football season, or a song. Kaepernick isn’t disrespecting the flag; he is making a statement about the harsh truth of what it means to be a black American; the fact that one has to live in fear of their lives simply because of the color of their skin.

Four Years Difference 

Four years ago, when the debate first started, Colin Kaepernick, who spearheaded the movement, was released from the NFL. No team has been willing to sign with him since. One year ago, the NFL, and other similar organizations like Women’s and Men’s Premier Soccer League, made rules saying that each player would either have to stand during the National Anthem or remain in the locker room. If a player decided to kneel, they would be fined on the basis of the critics; it wasn’t appropriate and it was disrespectful. The opposers to kneeling were the majority, thinking that it wasn’t a fight that needed to be had,

Two months ago, everything changed. A video of a cop kneeling on George Floyd’s neck sparked outrage across the globe. Protests, some violent, some peaceful, took the world by storm chanting “I can’t breathe”, “Say their names”, and “Black Lives Matter.” The fight that was deemed not needed these past few years was at the forefront of our country. The population was realizing that the police brutality that was demonstrated was not an isolated incident; it was what Colin Kaepernick was peacefully protesting and making a statement about a few years before. The murder of George Floyd was, however, the straw that broke the camel’s back and made it a global crisis. The outcry and protests were letting people know that the unequal treatment of blacks is a real thing and it hasn’t gone away, and suddenly a lot more people were aware of the issue and understanding Kaepernick’s decision to kneel. Athletic commissioners are now apologizing to athletes and reversing their rulings, and in most of the sports that have returned, the athletes are kneeling and taking a stand against police brutality together. 

Purpose for Change 

Despite the outcry four years ago, a larger number of athletes are kneeling in support of black lives. The care has shifted more to black lives than the flag. Questions are now being asked to the select few athletes who are choosing to stand, even if those athletes support the fight for racial justice. Some still disagree with the kneeling, and call that action unpatriotic. However, the kneeling is a peaceful protest for change and it shows solitary to the movement. It is not harming anyone. It is a simple act, asking the question, “what about blacks freedom that is questioned every single day?” There’s also going to be this debate over whether kneeling is respectful or not, but it’s more about the movement of honoring black lives than anything else. Respect black lives. Hire back the players let go for acting in reverence of black lives. Apologize for not understanding, work to understand each other’s decisions, and work together to find a way to honor black lives. For example, the NFL is making plans to play the black national anthem before games to honor those. Regardless of where one falls in the kneeling debate, work with others to fight for justice for change, so the freedom that the military is fighting for is felt by everyone.