Opinion: Debating the NFL national anthem protests

Posted on Sep 28 2017 - 8:00am by Wright Ricketts and Billy Schuerman

It’s an American’s moral duty to stand for the national anthem

It has been nearly one year since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines by refusing to stand during the national anthem at a 49ers preseason game.

Citing mass oppression of African-Americans and institutional racism throughout the police system as the reasons for his protest, Kaepernick began a movement that would lead many other NFL athletes to follow suit.

Kaepernick’s protest immediately enraged Americans across the country, who considered the move disrespectful to the thousands of men and women who have served our country since its inception. The controversy reached a boiling point this past weekend, when President Trump boldly shamed the protests, declaring the act “disrespectful” while calling on the players to stand and “respect our flag.”

Now, all American citizens are guaranteed the right of freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

However, just because something is legal does not mean it is just. Our flag and national anthem are symbolic of the values that make the United States exceptional. These material artifacts represent the freedom, liberty and equality all Americans are promised.

Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have died protecting these values. To many, the flag and anthem serve as reminders of these sacrifices, and it is an established tradition to be reverent and respectful during these ceremonies.

It is an absolute disgrace that these NFL players, most of them multi-millionaires who live privileged and prestigious lifestyles, chose such a sensitive and meaningful moment to parade their political agenda.

Can you imagine how Pat Tillman, an NFL player who left the league in 2002 to enlist in the Army and gave his life defending the United States abroad, would react to his peers’ utter disrespect for his sacrifice?

A public protest would be much more effective if it were done in a way that is not grossly disrespectful to millions of Americans.

Is the U.S. perfect? No. Will it ever be perfect? Unfortunately, no.

However, despite all the United States’ shortcomings, the flag is a reminder of how fortunate we are to live freely in this country. Out of respect and gratitude for our fellow countrymen and the American principles we all hold so dear, Americans have a moral duty to stand during the national anthem and respect our great flag.

Wright Ricketts is a junior banking and finance major from Memphis.


Players kneel for justice, not disrespect

In the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines, students at an Iowa high school organized a silent protest in which they wore black armbands to school to show their opposition to the Vietnam War and the injustice that was apparent.

When the principal found out about the students’ plan, he threatened to suspend anyone who showed up to school wearing one of the armbands. During the students’ suspension, parents sued the school, and in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that rights are not surrendered at the doors of the school.

According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Recently, in the NFL, players have been kneeling during the national anthem to symbolize the injustice that has taken place time and time again against African-Americans.

In one of the most notable acts, the Seattle Seahawks skipped the entire anthem, saying, “We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms.”

Of course, this all began last season, when Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, took the first knee.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said in an interview with NFL Media.

When Kaepernick began this protest more than a year ago, he pledged to donate $1 million to help oppressed communities. He has donated to various charities, like the Lower East Side Girls club and J. Cole’s Dreamville Foundation. All his efforts and donations are detailed on his website.

Kaepernick, the Seahawks and every single player who has taken a knee in solidarity have had experience with or seen de facto racism. Taking a knee is simply the way these players have decided to protest it, much like the Iowa students’ armbands.

Part of the reason the armbands were given the OK by the Supreme Court, besides right to political speech being at the heart of the First Amendment, was that it did not substantially disrupt the educational process. And it is fair to say that taking a knee prior to the start of a game is not disruptive to the game.

These players have just as much a right to kneel during the national anthem as anyone else does to stand. And for those who argue that kneeling is disrespecting the flag, take a look at the U.S. Flag Code, as the rules and regulations have come to be called.

While there is no mention of kneeling or standing at its attention, the Flag Code does have rules on some of the ways flags should be used that are so often seen. One such rule is that “The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose, nor embroidered on cushions or handkerchiefs, printed on paper napkins or boxes, nor used as any portion of a costume.”

Just remember that the next time you see your friend in an American flag shirt, he is disrespecting the flag far more than any NFL player who exercises his First Amendment right by kneeling.

These protests are deep-seated and full of a purpose: to call attention to social injustice.

Billy Schuerman is a freshman journalism major from Houston.