The Debate Over Standing or Sitting During the National Anthem

Pro-Stand During the Anthem

By: Devin Fussa

It is near impossible to deny the rising racial and social tensions in modern North America. Our country seems to face an unrelenting stream of moral questions, specifically regarding the treatment of the black community. These concerns are more than valid, with a horrifying number of racial injustices occurring in America as of late. Our country has come to a point of turmoil regarding these issues, and change should be sought to the best of our abilities.
Our current issues regarding race are nothing new, and, unfortunately, will most likely last far longer than necessary. But as is the case with such a controversial matter, caution must be erred on all sides. We, as Americans, have been given the gift of free speech and free association thanks to the Constitution. Such rights should be viewed as a blessing, and it is important that we apply these rights with a manner of respect.
San Francisco Forty-Niner quarterback Colin Kaepernick has become a recent representative for racial protest, having taken to kneeling during National Football League (NFL) games during the national anthem. His sudden rise as a civil-rights activist began during the pre-season, but is only now applicable to the current NFL year with the season having officially started its Sunday games last weekend. Kaepernick has absolute freedom to kneel as he wishes, with our country having offered its citizens the liberties of speech and protest. Since the NFL’s opening weekend, eighteen other players have joined Kaepernick in his venture. Some have knelt, and some have raised a fist during the anthem–these incidents occurring across the league in no particular order. For these players to have protested is perfectly legal, no matter how controversial.
And although these acts of solidarity are for the benefit of our nation’s peoples, there is a question regarding whether these protests could be done in a different manner. A large number of individuals feel as though the protests are a direct insult to the United States itself. These feelings have never been more apparent than on the league’s opening Sunday, which coincidentally fell on September eleventh. On a day during which the nation stands in somber remembrance of the tragedies that befell us fifteen years ago, a multitude of players across the league knelt at the beginning of “The Star Spangled Banner.” On a day which calls for unity among the American population, there was a clear divide.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in a recent interview. He has, of course, every right to believe this, but to kneel during the national anthem suggests extreme discontent. Kneeling for our national anthem suggests disapproval for the entirety of our country, without bringing specific attention to racial injustice. It may be more effective to target the problems of race with a more focused view as protesting the national anthem detracts from the real issue at hand. It draws attention, yes, but doesn’t provide enough to create the necessary change.
Some would argue that Kaepernick has taken direct issue with our nation’s police force, although in a most unproductive way. In a pre-season practice dating back to August 10, Kaepernick wore socks depicting the image of pigs wearing police hats. This was taken as a highly offensive message to police officers. Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations represents more than 200,000 officers within his division. “It doesn’t seem like he’s thought through or bothered to educate himself about the way [law enforcement officers] are out there trying to do a very difficult job, and the vast majority of the time get the job done right,” said Johnson. There have been undeniable instances in which police brutality shocked the nation: the tragic case of Eric Garner having been one of the most horrible things I’ve ever witnessed. For each incident of brutality, however, there is a plethora of good, morally right officers. They should not pay for the blatant crimes of their most atrocious co-workers. It is undoubtedly important that social change is found, albeit through more respectful, less-offensive means. It would be an absolute shame to see more violence in wake of a just protest.
In an effort to make real change, Kaepernick has recently pledged $1 million to communities affected by racial injustice and police brutality. This act is a step in the right direction, illuminating the issues of our nation without sparking new problems. Kaepernick has been lucky enough to have had a platform to voice his opinions, and, while controversial, are an important part of the American conversation. I only ask that the respect of the American flag and anthem remain unblemished.
These recent NFL protests have created an uncomfortable mix of football, racial concerns, and democracy. It is unfortunate that America finds itself in this situation, though some may argue it was only inevitable. The saddening state of racial tension in our country must see a means to an end, all the while remembering that we must keep the dignity of our nation intact. Kaepernick, among others, has drawn attention to an issue of immense importance and should continue to do so, although other forms of protest may prove more successful. His monetary donation and vocal advocacy have been massively positive, a prime example to follow in the coming days. For the well-being of our nation, racial issues must be put to rest by all peoples with the ability to contribute to this most crucial movement.

Pro-Sit During the Anthem

By: Briana McDonald

“The land of the free” is a sentiment that has been echoed to refer to the United States of America since the Star Spangled Banner was popularized in the 1800s. It is perhaps the most treasured line of our national anthem, but often the most contested. The United States Constitution gives US citizens certain rights and freedoms that are deemed inalienable — they cannot be taken away from us or used against us. One of these is the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49’ers quarterback, has sparked a national controversy through his exercise of his First Amendment right; he refuses to stand as the national anthem is played prior to the start of football games. Rather, Kaepernick chooses to kneel, while many of his teammates and other NFL players show solidarity themselves. Some kneeled, some held up their fists – widely associated with the Black Power movement – and some crossed their arms over their chests. Kaepernick has explained his actions as a protest against police brutality in America. He told NFL media in August, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” This means of protest should hardly come as a shock to a supposedly post-racial America. We live in a country where police are able to fatally use their firearms against unarmed people, many of them young people of color, and come away unscathed.
But dissenters of Kaepernick and his supporters’ methods say that it is an action of disrespect towards American troops and veterans of the United States military. This is untrue for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Star Spangled Banner was written as a poem in 1814 to celebrate the victory of the Americans over the British in the War of 1812. And while the Navy originally adopted the Star Spangled Banner as a representation of its morals and resilience, it is identical to the pledge in this right: it does not stand as a symbol of the military. It is not a logo to be defaced. Not singing it is not representative of disrespect towards the nation or our fallen troops. Those who say otherwise are using guilt to persuade those who choose not to participate or may not understand it.
But the real issue here is not whether Kaepernick is obligated to stand during the anthem. The real issue is how far we are willing to go to avoid discussing the reason behind it. Police brutality in America, especially towards people of color, is just that – brutal. As of September 13, a count by The Washington Post found that 679 people this year have been shot and killed by police. And statistics show that black people are 2.5 times more likely than white people to be the victims of these shootings. The fact that anyone can find these statistics with a simple Google search shows that efforts by activists against police brutality, like the Black Lives Matter movement, have not been in vain. But America still has a long way to go. A question I have heard more than any other response is, “Is this the right way to go about protesting?” My answer is, “Is there any right way to go about protesting?” In cities like Ferguson, Missouri, there have been peaceful protests against police brutality. In Baltimore, Maryland, there have been riots. Neither method seems to work, as there have been multiple police shootings in both cities since. What is one person with an NFL-sized platform expected to do when they want to take a stand, but Twitter solidarity just isn’t effective enough? Colin Kaepernick figured out his approach. And sure, Kaepernick’s stand – or kneel – has triggered discussion, but in a couple weeks, the news will have transitioned back to the celebrity feuds and trivialities on which this this country fixates. The scandal will have blown quietly away. But people of color, and people in general, will still be facing-down the barrels of police guns.
Kneeling during the national anthem is not a flag burning. It is not seditious. Colin Kaepernick is not cursing the United States, or joining an international spy ring. Another right the Constitution gives Americans is the right to petition, to complain. If police brutality against black Americans is not an issue to complain against, what is? When will we have another hashtag? Another person killed by police? When will the count rise to 680, 700? What is going to finally be enough? An NFL player kneeling during the national anthem may not solve the issue. It may not even make a dent; but, in order for us to finally address police brutality and put an end to violence between American citizens and law enforcement, we will have to tackle it through productive dialogue, no matter how uncomfortable.