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To Knee or Not to Knee

America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our country is portrayed as such, especially with America’s National Anthem. However, the United States has a history of systemic racism, and still, in 2017, there is a lack of justice for all in the country. This is one reason many players of the National Football League (NFL), have decided to take a knee in protest during the national anthem.

The NFL is the most popular sports league broadcasted on television in America. Millions of families around the country take time to watch football every week. In fact, more people watched the SuperBowl this year than voted in the 2017 presidential election. With the knowledge that millions constantly watch and update themselves on what is happening in the football world, one football player saw an opportunity to show his peaceful protest to the injustice and racism in America. Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49er’s, took his first knee during the preseason, and several of his other teammates including Eric Reid and Marquise Goodwin followed him. He wanted to show his opposition to the racism of African Americans like himself, stating that, due to police brutality, they are not safe or treated as equals in the United States. Colin Kaepernick believes there is not justice for all, and that the national anthem only accurately represents caucasian men and women. His plan worked when the media brought attention to his protesting- ultimately showing people around the country that there are still many racial issues to ameliorate in America.

However, Colin Kaepernick’s plan somewhat backfired. As a free agent, he lost his place as quarterback, and lost all of his opportunities to play for other teams. He even caught the attention of President Trump, who was offended by the example Colin Kaepernick set for many players across the NFL. At first, Donald Trump claimed that all NFL players kneeling during the national anthem should be fired, but when the NFL decided to allow the protests to continue, Trump tweeted: “The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!”

Many people agree with the president on this issue. A CNN poll showed that 49% of people found the kneeling to be disrespectful. This camp believes kneeling shows disrespect towards the U.S military, and the men and women who have risked their lives or died in battle, fighting for Americans’ liberty and rights.This is because the national anthem is thought to show the accomplishments of the U.S military, since they played a strong role in the rights and independence American citizens have today. One of Colin Kaepernick’s former teammates, football player Alex Boone, who has a veteran brother gives his opinion on the issue. He states, “It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there. That flag obviously gives [Kaepernick] the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some [expletive] respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.”

While many people who disagree with the ongoing trend Colin Kaepernick started, the amount of support for his movement continues to grow. Many 49er’s fans and players from teams across the league show their support for Kaepernick despite the fact that he is not currently playing for the NFL. (This was especially discouraging for fans since Colin Kaepernick was actually performing quite well during 2012 when the 49er’s made it to the SuperBowl). Many players across the league continue to kneel in protest during the national anthem, such as star players Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch and Martellus Bennett, all of different teams.

The number of veterans who support kneeling during the national anthem is also increasing. One veteran, Nate Boyer, a long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks, and an old friend of Colin Kaepernick, convinced Kaepernick to transition from sitting to kneeling during the national anthem in the beginning of the preseason. Kneeling is thought to be more respectful overall because it is the act of reverence and and admiration before a source of great power.   He compared the peaceful protesting by Colin Kaepernick to the actions of Mahatma Gandhi, who reached his long term goal of gaining independence and fighting injustice against British Imperialism in India by starting a peaceful protest that spread across the entire nation. Nate Boyer wrote Colin Kaepernick a letter about the injustice in America and the U.S flag, and because of the letter, he met with Kaepernick to discuss these issues in person. His letter states, “Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it. When I told my mom about this article, she cautioned me that ‘the last thing our country needed right now was more hate.’ As usual, she’s right.” Nate Boyer is now in full support of Kaepernick’s decisions, and has helped many other veterans understand his point of view.

Now it is settled that players are allowed to kneel if they want to, but many team owners have made the decision to have their players come out of locker rooms after the national anthem to avoid conflict and controversy for the teams.

In order to get a viewpoint from someone closer to home, I asked one of our very own Trojans, Coach Cotruvo of the varsity football team, shares his perspective and how he would feel if one of his players were to kneel for the anthem he said, “It depends on how it is done. If they came before and told me how this was a very important issue for them and they felt strongly that they had to do something about it, I would talk to them and come up with a possible compromise. But if they were to do it on their own without telling me, I would not be happy.” On the subject of whether he  believes kneeling in protest during the national anthem is disrespectful or not, he says, “No. I believe the Constitution gives citizens of this country the right to demonstrate peacefully. I think what Colin Kaepernick has done and what other players have done is perfectly legal, so I find it ironic that this is such a big controversy for someone taking a knee to social justice issues. I would rather have someone burn the American flag wrapped around the Constitution than have someone respect the flag while destroying the Constitution.”

Another Trojan, Matt Peters, the quarterback of the TL varsity team gives his opinion on the subject. “When Kaepernick starting doing it  [kneeling] I thought it was a good idea and ,[but that]  not that many players started following him at that point. I agree with him because he has a platform and a right to do that. But then all the players and teams started making a big deal of it when Trump said something, which made me think that if they really agreed with Kaepernick they would have taken a knee when he started. I would respect it more if the players did it when Kaepernick did, not because Trump said something, so I feel like it was not in regards to the issues of race and equality in our country. I myself would not take a knee because I have not had any experiences regarding that. It would be wrong for me not to support my teammates, and since I wouldn’t take a knee I would put my hand on them to show I respect the decision.”

Two more TL varsity players, Jonathan De Leon and Keileon Hodge give their opinions on the subject. Jonathan De Leon says, “I’m not really against it but I don’t support it at the same time. I don’t think it’s showing disrespect to our flag; I think it’s the rights we have. It’s a wonderful country and we have the rights to do whatever we want. So for [the professional athletes of the NFL], I think I support it. I don’t think I would kneel down or take a knee because it’s a show of respect. I would support my teammates if they wanted to. If I had a teammate who wanted to kneel I would happily stand with them.”

Keileon Hodge adds, “I support it all the way. I just think most people have the wrong idea of what it is. I mean, many people think it’s disrespectful to the military, but it has nothing to do with the military. It’s basically our rights. It’s people of color not getting all their rights as other people in this country do, so I am one hundred percent supportive of it. If people really understood what it is, they would be with it too. For me personally, I would kneel, but I’m the type of person where if I don’t actually go through this stuff then there’s no purpose of me doing it. I don’t encounter these problems on a daily basis the way a lot of other people do. For our team, it’s like, we consider ourselves a family, so if one of us does it then we all talk about it and support one another. ”

Sebastian Key, the defensive end and offensive tackle on the Varsity team, has a very different view than his fellow teammates. When asked if he would consider kneeling he said “No. I would not. Never in a thousand years. On my team, I would not agree with anyone kneeling because high school football is different than professional football. Luckily, all the Terra Linda kids don’t want to kneel: some may support the message, but there is no point in kneeling at a high school game.” Key added, “I see it as they’ve said they are not trying to be disrespectful to the military, but at the same time, that’s why they’re doing it. Because of the shock factor of people in the conservative end of the spectrum who are going to be mad because they’re saying players are disrespecting the military… I don’t see it as disrespectful to the military, but I find it to be distasteful.”

This movement as a whole has started a massive conversation across our country regarding the issues of inequality and injustice that Kaepernick protested. Whether or not someone agrees with what Colin Kaepernick is doing isn’t what matters- what’s important is that we listen to each other and address the issues that start such a big commotion in the first place.

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