The Right To Take a Knee
By Jackie McMahon, Columnist
The argument about whether it is appropriate for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem recently re-emerged due to condemnation from President Donald Trump. President Trump sent out several tweets on the subject using the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem, saying that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to our country. He also implored the NFL to make it mandatory for players to stand during the national anthem.
But is it really disrespectful to kneel during the national anthem? Throughout history, kneeling has been used as a sign of reverence, respect or submission. This is why in certain religions people get on their knees to pray, showing their obeisance to their god. For centuries subjects knelt before their king or queen to show their loyalty – this stems from the fact that kneeling is a vulnerable position, inhibiting one’s ability to flee, and therefore exhibits trust in the ruler. (Why do you think Daenerys Targaryen has spent seven seasons of Game of Thrones trying to get people to bend the knee to her? I mean, you don’t use your dragons to burn someone alive unless it’s pretty serious business…) And while it’s unknown exactly when people began getting down on one knee to propose, most can agree that the meaning behind it is to show humility and respect to the person with whom they want to spend the rest of their life. Colin Kaepernick, the player who started the now infamous #TakeAKnee movement, stated that the reason he chose to kneel instead of remaining seated was to show respect to our nation’s veterans while simultaneously making his point.
Contrary to Trump’s tweets, many veterans actually have come out in support of athletes’ right to take a knee. A photo of 97-year-old World War II vet John Middlemas kneeling in support went viral on Twitter with 165,395 retweets and 435,400 likes at the time of this article’s writing, and the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick began trending as well. One tweet stated: “Stop claiming it’s disrespect to veterans to #TakeAKnee. I’ve served 20 yrs and counting. I fight FOR that right, not against.”
But let’s just assume for one moment that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful. The U.S. Flag Code does ask citizens to stand, after all. However, there are also many other clauses in the code that Americans break constantly. It specifies that the flag “should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”, “should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever”, and “should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard”. Basically, every single one of us has broken the Flag Code tenfold at every Fourth of July barbecue we’ve ever been to, running around in our American flag T-shirts and eating greasy hot dogs off of American flag paper plates. Where are Trump’s angry tweets about that? I guess he’s too busy selling American flag coolies and ‘Make America Great Again’ T-shirts on his official website to actually read the Flag Code…
Though President Trump denies that his criticism has anything to do with race, it’s nearly impossible to leave out such a crucial factor in the discussion, especially when the aforementioned leader of the free world is on record saying that white supremacists include “some very fine people”. The purpose of the protest is to bring attention to the disproportionate amount of police violence against non-white citizens (African-Americans in particular). How can you possibly separate race from these issues? The civil rights movement is also deeply tied to the concept of peaceful protests. On Saturday, September 23, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change tweeted an image of King down on one knee in Selma, Alabama on February 1, 1965, leading a group of nonviolent civil rights protesters who were also on their knees. The image was accompanied by the caption: “Many are “more dedicated to order than to justice,” offended by kneeling during the Anthem & not by racism & modern-day lynching. #TakeAKnee” Yet, Clemson University coach Dabo Swinney has stated that he doesn’t think King would support Kaepernick. Jeez, has anyone around here opened a history book lately?
You can still respect and love something while also acknowledging its flaws. America is a country that was built on the values of freedom, democracy and equality, yet we still haven’t achieved total equality for people of color. Anyone who believes in this country should support someone’s right to freely expresses their thoughts in a peaceful manner, because – at least in this writer’s opinion – that is the most American thing a person can do.