Friday, November 24th, 2017

Take a knee

Posted on October 24, 2017 in Sports
By USM Free Press

River Plouffe Vogel

Recently the sports world has been rocked with controversy over players kneeling or  choosing to stay in locker rooms during the national anthem. This of course isn’t entirely new but is a trend that has slowly, yet not so quietly, burst onto the national stage and simultaneously caused a national debate. However, trying to define and describe the parameters of this debate is not so easy.

It would be unfair to lump all the opinions into two broad opposing sides, in fact it would be impossible to really encapsulate all the different opinions. It’s rare that such an important and dynamic debate be raised in sports on the national level, and for that reason, I feel like it deserves special attention. First and foremost, regardless of what anyone says, this is not about a flag or anthem, this is about the marginalization of minorities in the United States. This is about athletes exercising their first amendment rights to peacefully and respectfully protest against something history can entirely back up, and does.

So let’s start from the beginning–before Sunday’s series of events, before the President’s controversial comments, and before Colin Kaepernick started kneeling over a year ago. America was founded on slavery, and I will have this debate with anyone who is willing. Many of the founding fathers owned slaves and an overwhelming majority of presidents in the first twenty years of our nation came from Virginia, the largest slave holding state. Slavery was specifically not mentioned in the Constitution because the framers knew they couldn’t have a complete union, with the participation of the southern states, without protecting slave owners’ interests. It was a compromise with evil, simply put.

We cannot ignore the deep history of racism, sexism and segregation in this country. We do not live in a post racial society. The ripple effect of such extensive, damaging and discriminatory laws can still be felt today in neighborhoods, schools, the workplace, the courthouse, politics and prisons. Of course there have been leaps and bounds, of course we’ve seen massive victories for equality, social justice, liberty and the advancement of millions of marginalized people, but that fight is long from over.

Statistically in this country, even today, you’re at a disadvantage if you’re a minority. That doesn’t mean you can’t grasp the “American dream” but it does mean you will probably have to fight through more barriers to get there. These facts can’t be ignored or justified. The point is, there is a rhyme and reason for these players to protest. It certainly doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from our shared history, one we can be ashamed and proud of, but one we can’t just ignore, or treat as the past and shove aside.

The history of sports has been no different. It has seen its fair share of inequality, sexism and discrimination. From Jackie Robinson to Title IX, it’s been a long fight. Athletes like Muhammad Ali paved the way for millions of people to rise up in protest for a war they didn’t start or want to be a part of. Women like Billie Jean King shed the spotlight on the huge pay gaps between male and female tennis players in 1973, something the American women’s national soccer team is still dealing with today, almost fifty years later. And now, in the NFL where two-thirds of the players are Black, they are starting to take a stand, or knee,if you will.

If anyone has ever listened to or watched a sports show, they know that they are brutal. Typically a bunch of guys, who never played beyond high school, sit there and just rip into the moral fiber of these young players. They are merciless. They criticize and analyze their every move and complain they aren’t grateful enough for how much they get paid.

It should be noted that NFL players get paid so much because people choose to buy into sports, big time. And they make pennies to a dollar when compared to owners and literally thousands of other people who profit off their play, and that’s not even mentioning college sports. We take these young players, throw them under a national spotlight, expect them to play a very aggressive, competitive game where they are told to win or get off the field, where they are tossed aside when injured and then they are expected to be model citizens for youth. Most of these guys are under twenty-five, playing a game where even just the fans’ emotions are so high you see people crying and shouting, friendships lost and even families at odds, over a game. And that’s the reality here, these guys are out there risking their butts for our enjoyment, but at the end of a day, it’s just a game.

But when they take a knee, they are silently, respectfully speaking out against a real injustice, against issues in our country that actually affect the lives and welfare of millions of Americans. We idolize them, we worship them, we wear their jerseys and fantasize playing in their shoes. Think about it, sports is like a religion, some people care more about sports then they do school, relationships, work. When these players try to say something, people should listen.