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Kneeling for the Anthem: a Catholic Reflection on Protest

During this preseason, NFL fans, such as myself, have kept an attentive ear to the ever-debated topic of who’s kneeling during the national anthem. While some fans have tried to simply focus on the sport, the actions of some players have become national news segments and topics of conversation at family dinners. What started as one player kneeling has led us down an incredibly complicated road. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out this timeline that lays out all of the details and events from the first kneeling in 2016 to now.

Let’s See How Far We’ve Come

In 2016, during a preseason game, Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the 49ers, chose to sit on the bench while the national anthem was performed, rather than stand with his teammates. When the media addressed the matter, he stated that, “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.”

Kaepernick had a discussion with Nate Boyer, an ex-NFL player and green beret, about his protests and then decided to kneel rather than sit on the bench during the anthem. Players from his own team and teams around the league began kneeling during the anthem as a way of voicing their opinions about social and political issues and supporting Kaepernick as he faced criticism from those who disagreed with his protest.

Kaepernick’s contract ended with the 49ers and he became a free agent. While Kaepernick is not a perfect quarterback, he is a lot better than a lot of the quarterbacks around the league. Several teams had interest in signing him but to this day, he is not signed by any team in the NFL.

Some players continued to kneel for the anthem during the 2017 season. President Trump spoke about the issue at a political rally, during which he insulted players who kneel for the anthem and encouraged the owners of said teams to lay off players who refuse to stand. This led to the biggest number of player protests in the league, from individual players protesting to owners going out on the field and kneeling with players, all the way to entire teams waiting to enter the field until after the anthem was over. The NFL responded, which led to more comments and insults from President Trump.

And here we are now, in the 2018 preseason. After several months of flip-flopping on the issue, the NFL has issued a new rule regarding how players can respond to the anthem. Under this rule, players are allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem. However, if they choose to join their team on the field and kneel, the team will be fined. This rule comes without consultation from the NFLPA, the official organization of NFL players.

What Do We Do Now?

Amidst all of the arguing about whether Kaepernick’s actions were justified, it is important to remember his motivation. He didn’t kneel during the anthem to disrespect those who have served our country; he started kneeling because he felt that United States federal employees were not treating all of its citizens justly. Regardless of whether you agree with him, he has a right to be heard and deserves to be treated with respect.

NFL players are not virtual avatars in a video game; they’re real people with real life experiences that have shaped and formed their stance on certain issues. Just because they play a sport for a living doesn’t mean they’re incapable of political thought or commentary. While it may be easy to write off an athlete’s opinion and tell them to “stick to sports” (like Laura Ingraham did to basketball player Lebron James recently), disregarding someone’s opinion because you disagree with it is disrespectful and quite frankly, immature.

While it is true that athletes usually get paid quite a bit of money to play a game and live a life that few have the opportunity to experience, that doesn’t mean they can’t address matters outside of their profession. Whether it’s a fan, talk show host, or political leader telling the players to “stick to sports,” or league executives implementing voice-restricting policies, the attitude that we have a right to mute people who disagree with us does nothing more than generate greater conflict, division, anger, and hate. The new policies that the NFL has introduced — without dialoguing with the players — are evidence of something bigger than just money; they’re a dismissal of and disregard for a human perspective, opinion, and ultimately, voice.

A Fan’s Perspective

The question now becomes, what should we, as Catholics, do in light of this? Ultimately, we are called to love and listen to those who are kneeling during the anthem. We might disagree with them, or their way of protesting, but that doesn’t negate their identity as children of God, created in His divine image. Even if we don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, we must “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).

In the same way that we have a duty to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we also have a moral obligation to seek and defend truth. Although it may be easy to simply join a side for the sake of being a part of the commotion, as Catholics, we should strive to find the truth in the issue at hand and avoid jumping on whichever bandwagon appears to be the “right one.”

Finally, it is crucial that we vocalize how we feel about injustice. Knowing that we’re all one body in Christ we have to see our duty in all of this; we ought to work to prevent injustice in our world and this case is no exception. Let us use our platforms — whatever they may be — to charitably talk about issues in our world, always bringing a voice and perspective of prayerfulness to the discussion.

About the Author

Dillon Duke

Of all the blessings that God has given me, the ones that particularly stand out are family, french fries and football. I'm currently a Communications student at the University of Houston but I'm hoping to get into Hogwarts for graduate school. You can find my music recommendations and dad-jokes at twitter @dillduke

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