Updated: Sep 25, 2020
"I take a knee". There are not many statements as innocuous and yet have the power to create such a vast divide. But, here we are standing on either side of a chasm filled with vitriol. While not everyone may agree with those who kneel during the national anthem, it is important to understand the reasoning behind kneeling. Above all, it is critical to recognize that each person may choose to agree or disagree, but disagreements can be handled with respect, understanding, and empathy.
Kneeling is a way many have chosen to protest against the systemic inequality in the United States criminal justice system. Most recently, perhaps most highly publicized, this inequity in our criminal justice system can be seen through the instances of police brutality and use of unnecessary force involving George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and many other Black Americans. In the United States, there is a struggle for racial equality. This inequality in which the United States is failing to provide freedom, liberty, and justice for all fuels the frustration of many. This frustration and disapproval are why many choose to take a knee.
In the National Football League, kneeling began with Colin Kaepernick in 2016. For two games, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem. However, after being advised by Nate Boyer, a Green Beret, he chose to kneel instead of sit on the bench. When Kaepernick sat on the bench, few noticed or acknowledged his choice. When he kneeled, he was seen as unwavering and resolute in his stance. He received immediate attention, both positive and negative. While there were certainly those in disagreement, many supported him. His choice led to athletes across the country joining him in kneeling during the national anthem. One player who joined Kaepernick, Eric Reid, wrote, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
Kneeling during the national anthem has gained a great deal of publicity throughout recent years, but choosing to peacefully, respectfully, and silently protest is not something that is new. In 1968, athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos competed and won gold and bronze medals in the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. As the Star-Spangled Banner played, the two athletes took the opportunity to send a message. The two visibly represented their frustrations towards the turmoil in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. Each raised a gloved fist in the air. They bowed their heads to honor those who died for the cause. They wore black socks, without shoes, to represent the poverty that Black Americans were experiencing. Lastly, they wore beads to protest lynchings. A third athlete on the podium with Smith and Carlos was Peter Norman, an Australian athlete. He did not raise his fist, but stood in solidarity, as an ally, with the two American athletes. He wore a badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Their actions, much like the actions of those who kneel, show they were one with the struggle for racial equity.
It is important to acknowledge that each American is given freedom of speech. Not everyone will agree with or support those that choose to kneel during the national anthem. We affirm and uphold the First Amendment right of free speech, yet affirm and applaud the fact that our federal courts have placed limits on speech to guarantee and protect all students from discrimination and harassment. So, while we each have the freedom of speech to disagree, none of us are free from consequences and cannot use our freedom of speech to discriminate against or harass one another.
While there may certainly be consequences in the present, there can also be long term consequences of choosing to use your freedom of speech to discriminate against or harass another person. Many choose to take their disagreements to social media. Whether good or bad, what is done and posted on the internet will stay forever. Colleges, universities, and prospective employers routinely search social media and opportunities can be lost because of a desire to tear someone down.
Each day, there are people in our country, in our state, and in our own community who are hurting because of racial inequality. Kneeling acknowledges that pain and shows understanding towards all who deserve, but are not shown, equality. One CCA student stated, “Kneeling for me is a symbol of solidarity. I will never know what it is like to be discriminated against for the color of my skin. I will never fear for my life when a cop pulls me over. I will never be called a racial slur when walking down the street. I will never know that pain.” No matter which side of this divide you may be on, we seek for all to have an understanding of why many kneel. The United States claims to stand for freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Until that claim stands true, we will kneel.
-written by Claire Hagedorn and contributions by Gretchen Muhlenbruck of Better Way Forward
Arthur, Kenneth. “Fan Reaction to NFL National Anthem Protests About Racism.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 26 Sept. 2017, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-sports/why-fan-reaction-to-nfl-national-anthem-protests-is-about-racism-not-patriotism-201838/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.
Blakemore, E. (2018, February 22). How the Black Power Protest at the 1968 Olympics Killed Careers. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/1968-mexico-city-olympics-black-power-protest-backlash
“ESPN.” ESPN.Com, 16 Sept. 2016, www.espn.com/video/clip/_/id/17563687. Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.
NPR. “The Veteran And NFL Player Who Advised Kaepernick To Take A Knee.” NPR.Org, NPR, 9 Sept. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/09/09/646115651/the-veteran-and-
nfl-player-who-advised-kaepernick-to-take-a-knee. Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.
A statement on Kneeling by Amelia Keller, Senior, Cheerleader Captain, CCAHS
"In some ways I think I did lead it, in others not? From what I can tell, others had the idea of maybe kneeling but I was very vocal and open about my intention to kneel and my support of others if they chose to as well. Since I am one of our captains and a senior on the team I think a couple felt emboldened to go through with kneeling.
When at a football game you are often asked to “please rise and show respect to our nation’s colors” or some variation thereof. I do not believe rising for a flag that has historically only stood for the freedom of the white man is moral. I think kneeling to show respect to those who have lost their lives to senseless violence is a much better use of that time.
Kneeling for me is a symbol of solidarity. I will never know what it is like to be discriminated against for the color of my skin. I will never fear for my life when a cop pulls me over. I will never be called a racial slur when walking down the street. I will never know that pain.
But I will always hold the hand of those that do. I will always speak up for those whose voices they try to muffle. I will always have the uncomfortable conversations with my white peers. I will always call out the racism in my school and in my community, even when others won’t.
Kneeling is how I say that no man should ever be in it alone. I kneel for Colin Kapernick, a promising young quarterback, who last played professional football in January 2017. I kneel for the people of color who I am proud to call my friends. I kneel for those who have fallen victim to police brutality, from the forming of our nation to today. I kneel for people that I will never meet who are facing injustices I cannot imagine.
I kneel to show that we are in this fight together."