Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States has used these words as a foundation for building society as we know it. But does life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness apply to everyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or color? Based on how polarizing the debate has become, one might start to think the answer is more complicated than just a straight yes or no. The answer, of course, depends on many factors; such as, how a person is raised, personal experiences, natural disposition, etcetera.
According to Colin Kaepernick, a former National Football League (NFL) player for the San Francisco 49ers, our country is not respecting these words. Because of this, many athletes and American citizens are choosing not to participate in national traditions. Recently, the actions of a few NFL players, including Kaepernick, ignited large-scale controversy over the American flag and whether not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance and/or national anthem should be construed as disrespectful. Both sides make some fair points, but it is a person’s constitutional right to abstain from participating in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. The First and Fourteenth Amendments are very clear that refraining should not be considered disrespectful.
The Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem have been engraved into American culture since the late 1800s. The Pledge of Allegiance was created by Francis Bellamy in the mid to late 1800s and was originally published on September 8th, 1892. As for the national anthem, it was created in the early 1800s during the War of 1812. “The Star-Spangled Banner” became America’s national anthem in 1931. As for our flag, according to official flag code, one should stand during the pledge with the right hand over their heart, with headgear removed. Many Americans follow these customs and it is now a part of the norm to do so. Generally; when people act outside of the norm, it tends to spark conversation, and even hate.
Although people that choose not to participate in saluting the flag or national anthem are generally subject to intense negative scrutiny, we might ask “why is this one simple act, is so powerful, and so important to American culture?”
Why is the flag a major item of propaganda throughout the United States? The answer might just be as simple as looking out your bedroom window. The American flag is displayed frequently in the daily lives of Americans, and research has shown that the exposure to the flag increases “nationalism.”
According to Kemmelmeier, M., & Winter, D. G., the definition of nationalism is the “ideology of superiority of the ingroup over outgroups and implies the exclusion or even domination of others.” Related to this, the definition of patriotism is the “noncompetitive love of and commitment to one’s country” which is “primarily focused on promoting the welfare of one’s nation but is neutral with regard to the evaluation of others.” Patriotism is still symbolized within the flag, an example of this being the increase of patriotism during 9/11 against a common enemy. Not only is the flag associated with nationalism, but it also represents freedom, solidarity, sacrifice, and devotion (2008). Seeing that American schools are ordered to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, it shows that there is a link between nation and state, and that the flag is a part of America’s identity and proves to be a symbol of America’s values over the centuries.
The flag is an icon “associated with central cultural and political ideas” and therefore “should be able to reinforce the connection between the individuals and their nation” (Kemmelmeier, M., & Winter, D. G., 2008). However, what if the individual does not feel connected to their nation?
This is what Colin Kaepernick felt when he decided to kneel during the national anthem at one of his football games. Colin Kaepernick is a young, African-American football player who served as a quarterback to the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016. Kaepernick, alongside his teammate Eric Reid, took a knee during one of their games to protest racial injustice and oppression to African-Americans and minorities. Kaepernick explained that he would not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color” (Witz, 2016). His protests began a conversation of whether it should be mandatory to salute the flag, and whether his reason for abstaining should be taken as unpatriotic, or worse.
Despite the controversy surrounding the topic, many other athletes have since decided to follow his example by taking a knee and/or sitting down. Since his initial protest, many athletes have come out in support, defense, and joined in solidarity with Kaepernick. According to David White, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks sat during the national anthem at one of their exhibition games. Megan Rapinoe of the soccer team, Seattle Reign, chose to take a knee during the playing of the anthem (2016). Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers also supports Kaepernick saying, “I think he should be on a roster right now. I think because of his protests, he’s not” (NewsCurrents Read to Know, 2017).
There is no question that Kaepernick’s protest made people think about present day social issues and why they need to bring these issues to attention. Their actions were done for a purpose. The way they executed their protest was peaceful and its reason for being is without a doubt, valid. There is also no doubt that the protests have made an impact. But many argue that their reasons are not worth all the trouble that has been unearthed.
With every controversy, there is the other side. Many Americans believe that the protesters are not demonstrating an act of courage, but an act of disrespect. President Donald Trump stated at a rally, “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”(Graham, 2017). There have also been tweets from other public figures such as Kate Upton claiming that “sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is a disgrace to those people who have served and currently serve our country. Sitting down during the national anthem on September 11th is even more horrific. Protest all you want and use social media all you want. However, during the nearly two minutes when that song is playing, I believe everyone should put their hands on their heart and be proud of our country for we are all truly blessed” (Real, 2016).
Many others argue that these protests distract from the game, that the people don’t understand why they are kneeling, and that all lives matter. Popular beliefs are that many of the people joining into these protests are just jumping on the bandwagon because NFL players are doing it. Many of the opposing position believe that because all lives matter, the reason for why these people are kneeling is invalid because it excludes the white majority. What the opposing side often does not take into consideration is the Constitution and their rights as individuals to peaceably assemble and protest.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”The Constitution, seems very clear on the rights of these the players to express themselves. The Fourteenth Amendment reinforces that, stating “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This amendment alone supports protesters’ rights and their decision to kneel or participate. In the news, especially now, “equal protection of the laws” are not demonstrated (Constitution of the United States of America, 1789). Police brutality, racial profiling, racial discrimination, and oppression are not one-off events. The stories are told so often now in the media, people have become desensitized. Nonetheless, conversations need happen and these very real issues need to be addressed. These athletes took on that challenge.
Anthem protests have become increasingly prevalent in the face of a barrage of police shootings of unarmed black males. Things have since come to a head over the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. There was massive outrage when a white police officer shot an unarmed, black teenager. According to NewsCurrents Read to Know, on August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson. Police say that the teenager, Michael Brown attacked Wilson in the police car while some witnesses say that Brown was grabbed by Wilson with his hands in the air in surrender. Later, police said that Brown robbed a store prior to his death. Regardless, Wilson was unaware about the robbery when he stopped the teen (2014).
Nevertheless, the fact remains that a black teenager was shot and killed without being given a proper trial or explanation for his actions. According to NewsCurrents Read to Know, “black people are three times more likely to be searched and arrested when they are stopped by police. Police are also four times more likely to use force against black people than against white people when they stop them. And black youths are six times more likely than white youths to be jailed for their first offense, even when they have committed identical crime” (2014). This is just one of many cases of police brutality against minorities recorded in recent times. People like Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin were also victims of racial injustice and police brutality. For now, there seems to be no end in sight. According to Holland, J. J., President Donald trump claims that the photos and videos depicting the deaths of colored people due to police brutality are “hard to witness” and that police are “the most mistreated people in this country” (2016). However, one opinion does not constitute the opinions of others, and because the media is filled with stories just like these; it further justifies the actions of the protesters, lending credence and validity.
It’s important to note that Kaepernick is following in a long tradition of athletes expressing their conscience, including 50 years ago. In the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American sprinters won medals. A photo of them at the awards ceremony depicts the two men, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, peacefully protesting by bowing their heads and raising their black gloved fists while the national anthem played, the symbol of Black Power. The two men were also wearing black socks and no shoes to protest racism in America. Later, they were suspended from the US Track and Field team and had to return their medals (White, 2016). Both athletes also received death threats, but they refused to apologize. Years after the incident, Smith said, “we were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country.” Last year, John Carlos spoke out in support of Colin Kaepernick. Carlos stated that, “protest is a good thing because you’re trying to expose certain things through protest” (NewsCurrents Read to Know, 2017). These athletes had their reasons to protest and wanted people to think about the oppression many minorities, especially the black community, face. Nearly all people saw this act as disrespectful at the time. But, like Kaepernick and other athletes today, Carlos and Smith persevered through the hate for their cause.
The reason why so many people choose to protest is not rocket science. It is about injustice. It is about starting the conversation so that people can try and make positive changes. Not much changes if not enough people are aware of a problem, right? There have been frequent cases where police brutality, racial injustice, discrimination, and racial insensitivity have been demonstrated. These issues are targeted towards minorities, but most commonly target the black community, and do not respect the Fourteenth Amendment ideal of “equal protection of the laws. The sheer amount of unjustified deaths, arrests, and racial insensitivity alone brings to light problems that can no longer be undermined, and instead, be brought to awareness. The people starting these conversations are demonstrating an immense amount of courage. There is no lack of proof for the oppression of black people. These athletes and students are demonstrating how to lead through peace. It is the right of the people to freely express their opinions and peaceably assemble to help make the world a more accepting and safe place, and we ought to support the right to exercise those rights if we are to live up to our American ideals.
Just because slavery and segregation are illegal, does not mean racial discrimination and injustice left when those laws were created. We’re arguing about a peaceful platform to protest, not another AR-15 rifle headlining another school massacre.
Black Lives Matter. #blm
–Kita Keopanapay, age 16
- Football player Colin Kaepernick has no team at start of season. (2017). NewsCurrents Read to Know, Retrieved from ProQuest database.
- Graham, B. A. (2017, September 23). Donald Trump blasts NFL anthem protesters: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field’. The guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/22/donald-trump-nfl-national-anthem-protests
- Hartocollis, A., & Bidgood, J. (2015). Racial discrimination protests ignite at colleges across the U.S. New York Times, Retrieved from ProQuest database.
- Holland, J. J. (2016). Why it matters: Race and policing. Associated Press, Retrieved from ProQuest database.
- Kemmelmeier, M., & Winter, D. G. (2008). Sowing Patriotism, But Reaping Nationalism? Consequences of Exposure to the American Flag. Political Psychology, 29, 859-879. Retrieved from Wiley Online Library database.
- Police shooting sparks outrage. (2014). NewsCurrents Read to Know, Retrieved from ProQuest database.
- Real, E. (2016, September 12). Kate Upton Slams NFL Players for Kneeling During National Anthem: ‘Unacceptable’. Us magazine. Retrieved from https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/kate-upton-slams-nfl-players-for-national-anthem-protest-w439114/
- White, D. (2016). Protests against national anthem growing. Social Studies for Kids, Retrieved from ProQuest database.
- Witz, B. (2016, September 1). This Time, Colin Kaepernick Takes a Stand by Kneeling. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/02/sports/football/colin-kaepernick-kneels-national-anthem-protest.html
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