The sports world has become a divisive place. Well, more so than normal. Thanks to the controversy over whether or not players should kneel in protest during the national anthem, people are coming out of the woodwork to praise or condemn the players who do (or don’t) take this action.
Things ignited back in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem when it was played at a game on August 26. According to Kaepernick, he was protesting racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S.
Since then, everyone from high school athletes to professionals in a wide variety of sports has witnessed team members kneel or sit during the anthem—to varying responses.
The cause is noble, of course. Racism and violence in our country are more rampant than ever, and outright condemnation is vital to preventing us from thinking this is business as usual.
But there are plenty of reasons why kneeling during the national anthem isn’t the way to effect change.
For one thing, it shows a huge amount of disrespect for the armed forces who protect our country. The purpose of the anthem is to show appreciation for the people who have risked their lives, been seriously injured, or died defending the U.S. “It’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting the flag that has given you the freedom to speak out,” noted Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
Then there are the pitfalls. Is kneeling actually changing anything? In the year since Kaepernick’s protest, we’ve continued to see increased violence, both specifically toward the African American community and in general. Racial intolerance and political strife remains the same, if not worse. While athletes may feel they’re effectively using their positions as celebrities to address these issues, in reality they’re only igniting further protest without actually changing anything.
In a recent letter to team executives, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remarked that the league should “move past this controversy” and focus on actions that support the unification of fans and athletes.
“We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues,” Goodell added. “[But] the controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.”
These issues aren’t going away, and people—both celebrity athletes and the average Joe—have the right to protest peacefully. But to pretend that just kneeling during the national nnthem is enough is to ignore the larger issue: Action needs to be taken. Change needs to happen. Whether you kneel or stand during the anthem is merely a token gesture that gets us nowhere.