In September 2016, the national anthem rang out across the Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. While the entire stadium stood, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneeled with teammate Eric Reid in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This subtle act of defiance caused national uproar. When asked why he took a knee with Colin Kaepernick, Reed justified his actions by declaring, “I refuse to be one of those people who watches injustices [of the systematic oppression against people of color] yet does nothing.” This was in 2016. A year later, the movement has grown tremendously in response to the lack of punishment for police brutality. National Football League players, collegiate athletes, cheerleaders and more have joined the protest movement by taking a knee, standing with their arms locked or not even coming out onto the field while the national anthem is playing before sporting events. They are using their privilege as a platform.
United States President Donald Trump was quick to voice his negative opinions about the athletes kneeling. During a speech in Alabama, he proceeded to call Kaepernick and other protestors “sons of bitches.” Via Twitter, Trump insulted the NFL and accused them of losing popularity. He also implied that discrimination based on political views is okay after claiming that players taking a knee should be fired. However, the opposite occurred, and some owners even joining their players in the resistance.
Kneeling during the national anthem was never about Trump and his presidency until Trump made it so. Protests and gestures against systematic oppression and racism in America have been going on since the U.S. began and are rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. During the 1968 Olympics, sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith stood together on the podium at the awards ceremony as the national anthem played, and held their fists in the air to show support of the black power movement. These gold and bronze medal winners were not protesting the Olympics — through their gesture, they were drawing attention to racism in America on a global stage. Just like these Olympians, athletes now are taking a knee not to protest the flag or the armed forces that fought for it, but rather, to protest the institutional racism that continues to exist in the country it stands for.
National Basketball Association player Steph Curry recently expressed his disinterest in visiting the White House, a tradition for championship winning teams, and thus Trump revoked his invite. Other athletes spoke out in support of Curry and the Golden State Warriors. LeBron James responded in a tweet stating that Trump is a bum and how a visit to the White House is no longer an honor with him in it. Kobe Bryant responded as well, criticizing Trump for creating division and hatred that will never Make America Great Again. Although the Golden State Warriors will now not be visiting the White House, they will still visit Washington D.C. to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Tori Bianco at [email protected]