Athlete Sparks Questions in Pledge Conflict

By Brianna Lackwood ’17

The traditional music chimes on as we sing and listen attentively. We place our right hand over our hearts to pledge our faith in America. A sense of pride can be felt in the way our voices carry out in monotone, but are you aware of what you’re standing for?

Googling the Star-Spangled Banner didn’t get me anything out of the ordinary; however, searching its “forgotten verses” elicited shock. The confusion starts with the third verse as it does reference slavery, but there is little clarity on the meaning of this portion of the text. The author, Francis Scott Key, was believed to have owned slaves himself, and this is what led many people to claim that the anthem and Key celebrated the killing of freed black slaves. Nevertheless, this is not what has made the song a toxic topic of discussion as of late.

We may all know him for his recent publicity from his decision to kneel during the national anthem. Because of this, Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, has created a controversial trend. Professional athletes and average sports players alike are choosing to take the knee as opposed to standing tall and showing pride in the country.

“I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL media.

His actions and this statement evoked support and contempt; a lot of the support is coming from his own team. The 49ers also issued a statement to the NFL stating that even though the national anthem is a staple in every game, Kaepernick has the right as a citizen whether or not to partake in it. It is not a question that racial injustice and prejudice are alive in society today, and this is what fuels the cause. Some, however, do not believe in his way of executing the cause.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the words “dumb” and “disrespectful” to describe Kaepernick’s stance in her interview with Katie Couric. She even went so far as to say that she would have given the same answer had she been asked about flag burning. Though this comparison is beyond misplaced, Ginsburg continues to justify her view by stating that it is a terrible thing to do, and that it may be offensive to others.

Nonetheless, in a nation whose Constitution is built on the premise of equality and justice for all, Kaepernick needs not answer comments like Ginsburg’s. The 1st Amendment grants us Freedom of Speech and the Right to Protest; that is the reason why members of the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs also knelt.

In news of athlete activism, these NFL teams are not alone. Two years ago, the LA Clippers held a silent protest against the former owner Donald Sterling for his offensive and racist remarks. The team warmed up with their shirts inside out and played the game in black socks and wristbands. They cleverly used their positions to speak up.

According to the Pew Research Center, 88% of blacks believe that “the country needs to continue to make changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites, but 43% are skeptical that such changes will occur.” Data collected by The Marshall Project showed that in 2015, blacks, who make up about 13% percent of the population, were targets of 26% of fatal police shootings. Similarly, The Washington Post’s database, which tracks fatal shootings by police, stated that blacks continue to be shot at 2.5 times the rate of whites.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Kaepernick told NFL reporters. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick could be referencing the offending officer, Darren Wilson, in the murder of Michael Brown. Wilson was let off on paid administrative lead and acquitted of all charges pressed against him. Kaepernick could be referencing the offending officer in the murder of Eric Garner, Daniel Panteleo, who received a raise in pay to $199,996 despite the fact that he was demoted to desk work, according to New York Daily News. He could also be talking about Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Amadou Diallo, Tony Robinson, and Freddie Gray. Their lives, and many more, have been taken wrongfully by police officers. How long does the list have to be to bring light to a crackling society which does not practice what she preaches? It is hard to smile and sing when the legal system shows unbounding disrespect for minorities.

It is hard to show nationalistic character when presented with discouraging news day in and day out. Skin color is not synonymous to crime.

You don’t have to kneel or raise your fists, but before you follow along in salute, become aware of what you’re standing for.

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