As the line between sports and politics becomes increasingly fuzzy and ambiguous, the heavily debated topic of taking a knee as a form of peaceful protest has come to the forefront of the public’s collective mind. The most recent, and potentially most impactful, event which merged the two seemingly extraneous topics is NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the playing of the United States’ National Anthem. This small demonstration sparked an ever-lengthening string of protests throughout the sports world that has even garnered the attention of the President of the United States.
August 26th, 2016
NFL Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is seen sitting for the first time during the National Anthem. Midway through the 2016-17 NFL campaign Kaepernick was benched in favor of inferior players for “football-related” purposes. Ever since losing his starting job, the infamous San Francisco 49er’s quarterback has completely fallen out of the league. Despite a shortage of quality starting quarterbacks, especially those with as sterling a resume as the Super Bowl caliber Kaepernick, the divisive figure has been unable to find a job throughout the NFL.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” – Colin Kaepernick
While many criticize Colin Kaepernick for his approach to this contentious matter, he himself has offered significant grounds for debate and has sparked a conversation that needed to be held decades ago. Kaepernick has said that his primary motivation for this protest was to bring awareness to the unjust treatment certain people are given in the United States, and the unalienable rights they have been denied in the past solely due to their ethnicity or religious inclinations. He adds, “People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. It’s something that’s not happening.” Kaepernick has in effect sacrificed his career for what he perceives as a higher purpose. Through his actions, Kaepernick has started a revolution within the sports world, doing as much as gaining the acrimony of President Donald J. Trump.
September 24th, 2017
It is week 3 of the 2017-18 NFL season, and Kaepernick’s protest is once again on the world’s mind. After a striking string of tweets condemning kneeling during the anthem from President Trump, nearly 200 NFL players of all ethnic backgrounds took a knee in solidarity of Kaepernick and his cause. Their statement has never been clearer; the rights, so strongly safeguarded and flaunted by the United States, are not extended to all people in their full capacity. The false equivalences drawn by American society are simply a facade that disguises a much uglier reality that many minorities encounter on a daily basis.
When history repeats itself, it is indicative of the changes, or lack thereof, that the society that witnesses these events has undergone. It is truly remarkable that exactly twenty years after NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was effectively blackballed by the league for his religion-based protest, Colin Kaepernick now faces an identical dilemma.
While many have perceived Kaepernick’s protests as a direct insult towards the military, Kaepernick has gone out of his way to prove otherwise, saying, “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. They fight for freedom. They fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice for everyone.” While many criticize Kaepernick for what they perceive as a slight towards the U.S. military, Kaepernick himself has gone out of his way to make it clear that the military has his complete and utmost respect. Former Green Beret Nate Boyer has made it very clear that Kaepernick’s protests do not insult him in any capacity and in fact, as a former member of a branch of the U.S. sworn to protect the rights we cherish, Boyer embraces this attempt towards unity on behalf of a rich NFL quarterback with everything to lose. Unfortunately, the message that has been repeatedly stated by both Abdul-Rauf and Kaepernick has been bastardized into a completely different political issue. While these athletes are peacefully protesting over civil injustice, many others, including the President himself, have taken these protests as direct attacks towards the United States flag, anthem, and everything for which they stand. Many have completely corrupted Kaepernick’s message from a constructive criticism of the injustices they felt they have suffered to an attack upon the very principles of American society. This issue has completely divided the United States and evoked several important conversations about the sensitive topic. Colin Kaepernick has surpassed his wildest expectations by bringing this debate to the forefront of America’s conscience.
What do these seemingly innocuous and unconnected instances reflect upon the strides we have made as a society? This uncanny repetition of history speaks volumes about where reality lines up with expectation in America and further demonstrates the changes we as Americans should implement in the future to ensure the full American experience is granted to every single citizen. A prime motivation for Kaepernick was the indisputably significant uptick in police brutality towards individuals of color. This message reverberated particularly strongly within the sports community, with sports superstars like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving wearing shirts in protest of the unjust killing of Eric Garner at the hands of white policemen.
Today, American society has evolved into a much more accepting one than it’s previous forms. Despite the significant strides we as a culture have made towards incorporating individuals from all walks of life, the grim reality still holds true that some ethnic and religious minorities are still treated differently from the rest.
So how does this affect us all in Hillel? Why should we care about an issue that started half a continent away in California that doesn’t seem to bother anybody within our sheltered community? As Elie Wiesel once so eloquently put it, “Indifference… is more dangerous than anger and hatred.” As members of the Jewish community, we know full well that injustice and hatred exist and are even prevalent within certain regions of the world. It is our responsibility as much as anybody else’s to take a stance and try to make a change. We should strive to achieve the Jewish ideal of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world to make it a better place. Judaism strongly emphasizes Tikkun Olam, so this concept is not foreign to our community and is one we should all strive to repair.
Ultimately, the decision to kneel is one every individual has to make for themselves. As citizens of the United States, we are all guaranteed the right to protest by the First Amendment to the Constitution, so we all have the ability to make our voices heard. Through a physical kneel or a symbolic one, we have the right to voice our opinions. Hillel students, and especially student-athletes, all have a unique platform to speak their minds upon, but it is up to each individual student to take a stance for themselves and make the world a better place.