Last Sunday, four Miami Dolphins players, running back Arian Foster, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, wide receiver Kenny Stills, and safety Michael Thomas, took a knee during the National Anthem, joining a growing demonstration around the NFL and all sports. Started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the move is designed to bring attention to the “oppression of black people and people of color,” according to Kaepernick’s explanation. The move is not without controversy, however, as fans have taken to Twitter and message boards to both support and criticize the players.
Many took umbrage with the fact that Sunday was September 11, the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, and a day they felt should be about unity. The kneeling of players was seen as a slight against the flag and against the first responders on 9/11, as well as the service men and women who have fought defending the freedoms the players enjoy. Even model Kate Upton got in on the discussion, writing on Instagram, “Sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is a disgrace to those people who have served and currently serve our country. Sitting down during the national anthem on September 11th is even more horrific.”
In my opinion, the national anthem is a symbolic song about our country. It represents honoring the many brave men and women who sacrifice and have sacrificed their lives each and every single day to protect our freedom. Sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is a disgrace to those people who have served and currently serve our country. Sitting down during the national anthem on September 11th is even more horrific. Protest all you want and use social media all you want. However, during the nearly two minutes when that song is playing, I believe everyone should put their hands on their heart and be proud of our country for we are all truly blessed. Recent history has shown that it is a place where anyone no matter what race or gender has the potential to become President of the United States. We live in the most special place in the world and should be thankful. After the song is over, I would encourage everyone to please use the podium they have, stand up for their beliefs, and make America a better place. The rebuilding of battery park and the freedom tower demonstrates that amazing things can be done in this country when we work together towards a common goal. It is a shame how quickly we have forgotten this as a society. Today we are more divided then ever before. I could never imagine multiple people sitting down during the national anthem on the September 11th anniversary. The lessons of 911 should teach us that if we come together, the world can be a better and more peaceful place #neverforget.
Of course, those freedoms also include the right to kneel during the National Anthem if they so choose.
Many of those who are angry toward the players have also taken that anger and directed it at the Dolphins as a franchise as well. Fans have said they refuse to support the team as long as the four players remain on the roster, and that the team has become an embarrassment by having the players make such a demonstration.
The players involve know that there are fans that have been very vocal in their displeasure, with Kenny Stills saying this week, “It stinks and it hurts, I guess, that people feel the way they do, but just understand that we're doing what we think is right.”
“That's the beautiful thing about this country,” Foster added. “If somebody feels it's not good enough, they have that right. That's all we're doing, exercising that right."
there was a pre game speech from our president commemorating those that lost their lives on that tragic day on 9/11. we stood for that.— Feeno (@ArianFoster) September 12, 2016
don't put your hatred in our hearts. I love this country. don't let the love for a symbol overrule the love for your fellow human.— Feeno (@ArianFoster) September 12, 2016
After the game this past Sunday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told reporters he supports the move by the four players. “I don't think it was any lack of respect,” he explained. “I think everybody here, our team and our whole organization, respects the flag and what it stands for, and the soldiers and everything. But these guys are making a conversation of something that's a very important topic in this country, and I'm 100% supportive of them."
The team released a statement moments after the National Anthem ended on Sunday. It read, “We encourage all members of our organization to stand at attention during the national anthem out of respect and appreciation for the freedoms we are afforded as Americans. We also recognize that it's an individual's right to reflect during the anthem in different ways. We respect these liberties and appreciate the sacrifices that everyone has made for our country, especially on this day of remembrance. We hope today’s events will continue a respectful and thoughtful dialogue in our community on unity, inclusiveness and togetherness.”
The players are not wrong in doing what they are doing. The fans who support them are not wrong in supporting them. And, the fans who are angered by their move are not wrong either.
In fact, that would be the exact point of the demonstration. This country is free and is built on protests. From the Boston Tea Party to kneeling for the National Anthem this week, if the protest leads to a discussion and some sort of change, then it will have been effective. If nothing comes of it, then maybe it was ineffective, but that does not mean the players were wrong in exercising their rights in how they thought they should.
And it doesn’t mean those who are spewing vitriol about that demonstration are wrong either.
Maybe kneeling during the National Anthem is not the right way to make a statement. But, maybe calling those who do choose to kneel names, wishing them ill or injury (as many did on Sunday), or spewing hatred is not the right way to make a statement either. There is a middle ground here, and, eventually, we as a country will find it. A federal republic with a voice from the people is not always clean and tidy. Sometimes, it is ugly, messy, and angry. But, that is what makes this country great. There are differences. There are ways to express those differences. And, there are ways to solve the issues brought forth by those differences.
This story is a long way from being over, and Foster said this week the kneeling will continue. “Yeah, we still feel the same way,” Foster answered when asked this week if he expects the demonstration to continue against the New England Patriots this Sunday.
This story has a personal connection with me. I am the son of a retired Army officer, who is the son of a retired Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer. My wife’s father is a retired Army officer, the son of a retired Army officer. I am currently on active duty service in the Army, with a brother who is also currently serving as an Army officer, and another brother who just recently left active duty as an Army officer. My brother-in-law and my cousin both recently enlisted, the brother-in-law in the Navy and the cousin in the Army. My sister-in-law served in the Air Force before getting out and marrying my brother. Another sister-in-law served in the Army before she got out and married another brother. I was in ROTC when the 9/11 attacks happened, and I remember the change in how we felt realizing that we were no longer just joining the Army, but we were joining an Army at war. In other words, everything about me has been and is about serving the people of the United States and that flag. I wear it every day on my right sleeve, and I could not be prouder about what that flag symbolizes. (Side note: I realize this paragraph comes across as self-aggrandizing, but I do not mean it in that sense. On Sunday, many people tried to argue with me that I do not understand how disrespectful these players were being to our veterans. I just wanted to end that argument by pointing out that, as someone who has been deployed to combat, is serving, and grew up as an Army brat, I do understand. - And, that’s not to say all veterans feel the same way I do about this. Some may be very angry. Some may not care at all. Even in my own family, I know there are differences of opinion about this situation - and, again, that’s what makes this country great.)
With the defense of the rights of the people of the United States comes the defense of people doing things with which I may not agree. It does not make them wrong, it just means I do not agree. I understand the point the players are trying to make, though I disagree with how they are trying to make it. I think, in the end, however, they are being effective in kneeling, because it has people talking.
Maybe all four will kneel again this week. Maybe only Foster. Maybe the entire team. Whatever the case, this is a discussion that is just starting in the messy way discussions start in a country designed to have freedoms felt by all. Will the fact that this Sunday is not 9/11 change how people react to the players’ kneeling?
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