In a previous FAR post, I talked about the newest trend in sports of including women in marketing strategies for American football. Today I have decided to throw my hat into the ring regarding the recent polarizing “Kneeling” protest taking place at NFL games. I started writing this on the morning that the current Vice President walked out of a NFL game due to players ‘taking the knee’ during the National Anthem; a protest which has been reported to cost TAXPAYERS $200,000. Weeks have gone by with the issue getting bigger and bigger. I can no longer stay silent.
This protest started when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem in August of 2016. He stated he was taking a knee to stand for people that were being oppressed. It has since exploded as a social movement/protest.
It has become a highly sensitive and polemic topic. And it is polarizing bcause the two groups which are opposing each other are actually, talking about two different things. The group that supports the kneeling protests understand that this ‘peaceful, and respectful’ act during the National Anthem is an important way they can voice their solidarity, take a stance, and bring awareness to the violence and injustices that minority groups face, especially African Americans. The group that radically opposes this protest only see it as a disrespecting act of our country, our flag, our troops, and their faith. Thus, the arguments and pseudo-discussions are not getting anywhere.
The group that sees this protest as disrespecting the flag brings up the idea that the flag stands for all the military troops. They bring up those that have fallen in service, and say that by taking a knee, others are undermining the sacrifices and deaths of our service people. This group also links the disrespecting of the flag as unchristian.
While for some Christianity and America are inextricably linked, I assert that the American Flag should not be a symbol of the Christian Faith. If our nation is truly formed and rooted in “Separation of Church and State” then behavior during the National Anthem is not a Christian issue, it is not a mark of beliefs or “lack of God,” but a State issue: an issue about the security, safety, and preservation of all humans, all citizens of our nation. The picture below is an Army Vet taking a knee.
If the issue is about how the Flag is being used or not used, then we need to have a history lesson. The American Flag was first time flown in our nation during the Siege of Fort Stanwix (1777) in the American Revolution – as an act of rebellion, defiance, revolution, and yes protest. The American Flag and its symbolic meaning in the United States strengthened in 1860 during the start of the Civil War: another war of protest, of acts of defiance towards the inhumanity of slavery and state-federal involvement.
The desecration of our flag is PROTECTED in our country. It is an act of free speech and maybe it is because it is such an outrage that it is used as protest – a way to call to action, a way to shock you so much that something changes.
Protest is Patriotic. We are a nation that was built on protest. We have fought wars in protest. Our legacy of change is rooted in protest. The right of Women to vote was born from protest. The Civil Rights movement was protest. The American Disability Act and Veteran Protection Act were brought about by protests.
This whole affair has bought up how polemic the national flag has become. It has become so intertwined with patriotism, for the free world, and more importantly for the Christian West.
The same groups that adamantly hold that these players are disrespecting the flag are the same ones that have some sort of American Flag apparel, merchandise, or item. All of which under the Flag Code are prohibited. Yet to them, they see themselves as patriotic and correct.
The other point of discord is the act of kneeling. There is just something so illogical in the notion that kneeling is disrespectful. One kneels or bows when entering into a holy space, you kneel when you receive a knighthood and in sports when a coach wants to talk to the team, they take a knee. Kneeling as protest is found during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1964, Blacks and Whites knelt in prayer outside segregated churches in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Memphis.
The kneeling protest in this light is one of the most respectful and peaceful protests. The people who have taken a knee, are not turning their backs to the flag, they are not raising their middle fingers, they are not choosing to remain in the locker room. They are not disrespecting the thousands of military personnel who have fought and fight for our nation. They are performing their rights as citizens of America, they are respectful calling attention to the endemic problem our nation has and must face.
This protest and its polemic reactions got more fuel with the viral rap video by Eminem where he brings up Trump’s tactics of using the NFL to pull the American’s gaze instead of rallying to help all the humans in Puerto Rico, of the devastating new policies surrounding the LGBTQ community in the military, and his recent controversial Executive Orders striping Environmental Protection Laws, (he has signed a go ahead order for the Dakota Pipeline on Standing Rock Land) and now the new Executive Order surrounding Obamacare. It has also included Trump demanding punishments for those that kneel, teams that support kneeling, and even punishing the NFL and any tv broadcasting station that airs/supports it.
Hum, sound a little like a dictatorship? Monitoring, censoring, and punishment are the first steps to totalitarian regimes. And yes, I will say that it is a slippery slope. One that so many in Europe turned a blind eye when Hitler started taking control. If we are the land of the free, if there truly is freedom of speech, the right to protest, then this “Kneeling” protest has a right, a purpose.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a Ph.D Candidate in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. She is currently a Lecturer of Asian Religions at Whittier College. Anjeanette also writes the for activist blog, Engaged Gaze. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.