On Sept. 26, I saw a tweet from President Donald Trump that called for the National Football League to require professional players to stand during the national anthem. It read, “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our national anthem!”
As a political science major and firm believer in free speech, this post concerned me. It’s unclear whether it will have any tangible effect. But regardless of the result, Trump’s proposition reflects a dangerous, anti-free speech attitude that counters American ideals.
As a private organization, the NFL has a legal right to require players to stand during the national anthem. But Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality targeted at African-Americans is a peaceful expression of free speech — a constitutionally protected right. Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sat during the national anthem during the 2016 preseason and sparked controversy. He ended his contract with the team in March.
All Americans should be able to peacefully exercise their rights for the sake of social progress and exchanging perspectives.
Morkeith Brown, a former defensive end for Temple’s football team, turned down a spot in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and chose to pursue a career at World Wrestling Entertainment. He also spent 14 months in Afghanistan as a member of the United States Army.
As an African-American who has dedicated his time to both his country and sports, Brown praised the efficacy of Kaepernick’s protest.
“I think [he protested] at the perfect time,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of people who watch the NFL. If you want your message to be heard, you must do that in an area or time when it will be heard.”
America was built on a foundation of protests. Throughout history, marginalized groups like African-Americans, women and members of the LGBTQ community have pushed for equal treatment through peaceful protests. If we suppress political statements, we won’t see societal progress.
Kourtney Thompson, president of the Black Student Union, said peaceful protest is vital to communicating a message.
“Peacefully protesting things is more so about awareness, about making a change right now. … I think it opens up a lot of people’s eyes,” Thompson said.
Despite the hostility and backlash over Kaepernick’s actions and those who have imitated him, Thompson said she thinks the response to this protest has a positive effect.
“When you can see what someone does and see everyone’s reaction to it, you gain perspective, and you gain empathy on the group of people that decided to do something and why they decided to do it,” Thompson said. “Racism in America is complex to understand, and if you haven’t been in a place where you’re required to understand it, it’s very difficult to see where other people [are] coming from.”
Many have tried to frame Kaepernick as anti-military or anti-American.
But according to a report from the Washington Post, Kaepernick said, “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country… they fight for liberty and justice for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.”
Due to his race, veteran status and football experience, this issue is personal to Brown, and he supports Kaepernick’s perception.
“It boggles my mind, because as a military personnel we cannot shoot unless shot upon…[but] innocent, unarmed black men and women are getting killed by police officers,” Brown said. “Something needs to be done.”
Peaceful protests like Kaepernick’s shouldn’t be discouraged by the current presidential administration. People should be able to use any platform to reach out to fellow Americans.
David Nickerson, a political science professor and staff adviser of Temple College Democrats, said Kaepernick’s protest effectively draws attention to the exact social issues he hoped to address.
“I think that Kaepernick’s protest has done a lot to focus the attention of the nation on the issue of police shootings. If he had protested in other ways, it would not have received nearly as much attention,” Nickerson said. “The National Football League is the most popular sports league in the country, and protesting during the anthem is a way to get people’s attention.”
Nickerson said Kaepernick has done “a great deal of personal sacrifice.” And I couldn’t agree more. He risked his career and image to stand up for what he believes in — by not standing up at all.
It is up to us as Americans, despite our differences of backgrounds, alignments and opinions, to create an environment that encourages peaceful protest and political dissent for the sake of respectful social discourse.