Although the specific tradition of NFL players standing for the anthem dates back to only 2009, it has been a longstanding tradition in the United States to play the “Star Spangled Banner” (the national anthem) before sporting events. It is customary for anyone present at the game, including players, coaches, and spectators, to at least stand. In 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback player Colin Kaepernick sat and later kneeled during the playing of the national anthem to protest against police brutality and structural racism. This quiet symbolic action generated a loud discussion discrediting Kaepernick’s behavior, with some calling it “disrespectful.”
Among this animosity, some other players throughout the National Football League chose to follow suit. Although more athletes were doing it, the action was not described as a “movement.” It was more the act of individual players who believed in what Kaepernick’s message. However, these actions caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who took to Twitter to display his disapproval.
On September 23, Donald Trump tweeted “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect to our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
President Trump’s tweet sparked strong reactions from various players and teams throughout the NFL. Teams used their own methods to protest the anthem, almost as a form of resistance towards Donald Trump. A day after the tweet, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had his team skip the anthem altogether, choosing to remain in the locker room until the game actually started. The Chicago Bears chose to remain standing but locked arms while the anthem played. Players on the Dolphins wore Kaepernick T-shirts during their pregame warm-up. Before Trump’s tweet, protesting the anthem was only done by individual players scattered throughout the league. After the tweet, entire teams made it their prerogative to express their resistance.
These different types of protests along with President Trump’s reaction have garnered nationwide discussion. Media outlets have blown this story up to its fullest extent, and the controversy has been a topic of discussion across the country, even making its way into the halls of Cathedral Prep.
Mr. Pituch, a social studies teacher at Prep, weighed in on the issue. “This has become a very polarizing issue. Both sides present a clear argument on its relevance today.”
Jack Matthews, senior at Cathedral Prep, stated his opinion, “I feel that kneeling in protest of the flag is un-American. Our first amendment right is not only the freedom of speech but the freedom to not say anything at all.” Matthews’ opinion is against the players’ actions; however, there is always another side to the issue.
Mr. Hubert, an English and journalism teacher at Prep, used the issue as a teachable moment in his sports journalism class. “What I was reading on social media and what I was hearing in conversation was a lot of divisive, polarizing rhetoric,” he said. “I try to teach my students that it is important to be willing to engage in respectful dialogue and to listen to different perspectives on tough issues.”
Mr. Hubert assigned his sports journalism students to read a variety of articles analyzing and reporting on the protests. The articles, which came from a variety of sources, spanned the political spectrum and included columns with low-to-high levels of bias as well as objective news reports. “I was pleased with how well my students handled the follow-up conversation in a civilized manner. “Too many people resort to name-calling, seeking their mic-drop moment to shut down and ‘win’ the debate,” he said. “I challenged my students to be open-minded and empathetic—to push themselves to try to understand how the other side feels, and as a result we had a very productive, healthy classroom discussion.”
Clearly, this is an issue that ignites passion both from those people who support the protesters and those people who oppose them. The debate also leaves room for both sides to make well-reasoned points supporting their arguments. The beautiful part of this nation is that the first amendment allows them to disagree and voice their respective opinions.