Where Do We Draw the Line – Peaceful Protesting and Professionalism

Marissa Laramie, Current Events and Sports Editor

On August 26, 2016 masses of San Francisco 49ers fans gathered around televisions to watch their third preseason game and, naturally, also had their social media accounts open by their sides. Jennifer Lee-Chan, a writer for Niners Nation, tweeted out a seemingly harmless photo of the stadium during the national anthem. Fans began to take notice to one player sitting during. That player was Colin Kaepernick and by the end of the night, he was a household name shrouded in controversy. The 49ers released a statement confirming that he did indeed sit for the anthem and two days later Kaepernick met with the media to explain himself. He quoted, “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

Only a few days later, it was noted that Kaepernick wasn’t sitting, but kneeling, with teammate Eric Reid by his side. After talking to former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer, he decided to take a knee instead of sitting to show that he wasn’t trying to be anti-American or anti-military. However, many were still unimpressed and generally furious over his stance. Fans began posting videos of burning Kaepernick jerseys and taking to social media to show their distain, including using threats of harm and death. An anonymous NFL executive even flat out called him a “traitor.”  At the same time this was happening, Kaepernick’s jersey became the top-selling jersey on the NFL’s website and other players, such as Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks and Megan Rapinoe of the NWSL, joined Kaepernick’s protest in kneeling during the anthem. Many NFL players also stood in solidarity by linking arms and raising their fists during the playing of the national anthem. Many high school and college teams and players soon followed suit.

With growing anger, institutions, organizations, and leagues were forced to address the issue. Such was the case at Eastern Carolina University when members of the marching band kneeled during the anthem. ECU responded by acknowledging there was much disappointment and anger, but that “civil discourse” is one of their values. In Rapinoe’s case, the NWSL even planned for the anthem to be played while the players were still in the locker room to prevent anyone from peacefully protesting. While no suspension was made, some blame has been shifted onto Kaepernick for this season having lower ratings. Coming from a league that brushes domestic violence, child abuse, and other heinous acts under the rug, I highly doubt that Kaepernick is the only reason why ratings are down. The league does have an image issue and it doesn’t begin and end with him. Not all responses were negative, however. When the entire Indiana Fever team of the WNBA knelt, their coach, Stephanie White, praised her team for “doing that together.”

President Barack Obama came out and commented on Kaepernick’s protest stating he’s “exercising his constitutional right.” He’s not wrong. Right to freedom of expression is recognized under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Our own first amendment states, “congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech includes engaging in symbolic speech, like the protests that have taken place, and the right not to speak, such as not saluting the flag. As long as they are not inciting violence, they are acting within their rights. Kneeling and locking arms on the sidelines of a football game is not encouraging violence.

Above anything, I commend Kaepernick and those who have joined him in exercising their right to peacefully protest a cause they believe in. The difference between them and us is they have millions of people witnessing their act of solidarity. If I were to kneel or sit during the anthem, it would go relatively unnoticed and therefore, my message wouldn’t be getting across. But Kaepernick realized he had a platform that the general public couldn’t ignore him on and he used it. He knew exactly what he was going. In the words of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, “the reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms, is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right.”