After San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later kneeled during the national anthem in August 2016, it triggered a plethora of other protesting players, as well as a non-stop political discussion that has been associated with the National Football League since.
Earlier this month, Nike announced that Kaepernick would be the face of their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, effectively re-heating a controversy that seemingly couldn’t get any hotter.
The mix of politics into sports is uncomfortable for me. I don’t like it, as I’m sure many don’t. Sports have always been a break from “real life,” especially in today’s contentious political climate and seemingly endless stream of bad news. Frankly, I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone addressing this issue in this column. That said, I have some things to say I think everybody should hear, regardless of where you stand on this issue.
First, a disclaimer: I’m not writing this piece to push my opinions or to try to change yours. I myself am honestly unsure where I stand on the issue of the protests. Not to play middle man, but I can see points on both sides. And there are also aspects of both sides that I don’t agree with.
No matter what side you’re on, you can’t deny that these players are exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully protest. Who are we, as fellow citizens, to tell them what they can or cannot do? Kneeling for the national anthem is non-violent, and well within legal boundaries, whether you believe the protest is disrespectful or not.
Sure, there are other ways for players to voice their concern on social issues. They have the platform that comes with being a professional athlete, which is increasingly large in today’s age of social media.
One could argue that kneeling has been effective to a certain extent. The protests have made waves and created discussion. Whether it’s been about the act of protesting or the actual issues that are being protested, the topic is now ever-prevalent. This is half the battle.
However, that’s as far as we’ve got; discussion. I wouldn’t even call the vast majority actual discussion. It’s more like yelling at each other from behind screens on social media platforms. Nothing productive gets done this way. This issue is no exception. Politicians, team owners, and even players have made very little progress to transform this discussion into action off the field.
The bottom line is these protests are a result of a social justice issue that affects many people in our country today. The kneeling hasn’t resulted in concrete change because of the fact that people are unwilling to back down from their opinions to open up productive dialogue and compromise.
This brings me to my main point. I now challenge you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Put yourself in the other side’s shoes. Think about the protests and social justice issues from a prospective other than yours. Have a face-to-face discussion, away from the hostility of social media. Simply do some self-reflection. Ask yourself: Where do I stand? Why do I feel this way? And most importantly, is my opinion supported by fact?
Take this challenge and keep it in the back of your mind as you take in some football and maybe see Nike’s ad featuring Kaepernick. Have some productive discussion about the protests and keep an open mind, and maybe we can take a step closer to getting back to being united by the game of football, rather than divided.