The student newspaper of Nicholls State University

Editorial: A lot can be learned from NFL protests

September 29, 2017

Photo by: Rachel Klaus

Since America’s earliest days, the flag has been a symbol that stands for the ideals that this country is
built on, as well as the courageous men and women who have fought and died to preserve those
values—values like liberty, justice and, of course, freedom. This is why the flag is waved and the national anthem is sung at every sporting event around the nation.

The flag has been at the forefront of the public agenda recently with the protests that have been
sweeping across the NFL since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee
during the national anthem as a form of protest against racial injustice. Opinions of Kaepernick’s
decision, and now the decision of dozens of NFL players from various teams across the league, to sit or
kneel during the national anthem have been undeniably split, raising a question for all of us: is it
disrespectful to choose not to stand during the national anthem?

The answer to that question is that there is no definite answer. Whether or not refraining from standing
during the anthem is disrespectful ultimately lies with the views each individual person. One of the most
important freedoms that comes with being an American is the freedom of speech. This freedom allows
us to take a public stance for what we believe in, without fear of being punished for it.

It’s acceptable to believe that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful, and it’s acceptable to
believe that it is not. We must be aware, though, that NFL players who choose to kneel or sit during the
national anthem are, whether you agree with their decision or not, acting within their constitutional
rights. Their actions are neither “un-American” nor hateful toward the soldiers who have given their
lives for this country. Those men and women died for freedom, and that includes the freedom to choose
not to stand during the national anthem.

With that being said, there is something that needs to be made very clear: these protests have never
been about protesting the flag, the national anthem or America.

The players who choose to refrain from standing during the anthem are doing so because of beliefs
about which they feel strongly, whether those beliefs center on police brutality, racial injustice or the
recent and out-of- line comments made by President Trump regarding men who choose to kneel. They
aren’t kneeling against this country or the men and women who died for it; they are kneeling because
they see a problem in this country that they love, and they want to bring awareness to that problem.
They are kneeling to have their voices heard.

On the other side of the debate, people who believe that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful do
not feel that way out of hatred. They feel that way because they see the flag as a representation of all of
the men and women who have died to preserve this nation’s freedom and believe that it should be
honored accordingly.

Additionally, if someone denies that the problem for which these men are kneeling exists, it is not
necessarily because they hate that cause. It is likely because they do not face such a problem
themselves.

There unfortunately are people whose opinions on this issue come from unacceptable and extreme
views. Bigotry, racism and everything of the sort are, unfortunately, real viewpoints that some
individuals possess. Hateful people can be found on both sides. It’s disheartening to see the arguments
and disdain for one another that have been overwhelmingly evident on every form of media in the last
week because, if you step back and view this situation from a neutral standpoint, you come to realize
that every post and every tweet directed toward condemning a side of this debate comes from
complete misunderstanding. The heart of this issue has been overtaken by people on both sides with
agendas.

We currently live in a society that is plagued with divisiveness and hatred. That divisiveness is rooted in
misunderstanding, which leads to a lack of respect for the opinions of others and an inability to disagree
politely.

These anthem protests offer us a wonderful opportunity to find a path to understanding, not division.
They offer us a chance to educate one another and to learn from one another. Opinions on either side of
this issue can be met with disagreement, but they should not be met with name-calling or a questioning
of patriotism.

For instance, instead of immediately getting angry at NFL players for their form of protesting, consider
taking the time to learn why they feel compelled to kneel. Try to understand what issues have led to
their choice to take a knee. You may not see those issues, or they do not affect you personally, but that
does not mean they do not affect others.

If you disagree with someone who believes that those men are being disrespectful by refusing to stand,
take the time to find out why they feel that way. If they are angry with the method of protesting, then
maybe their feelings are due to a deep sense of pride in this country and the military. If they are
skeptical of the specific issues being knelt for, it may be because they do not experience those issues for
themselves. It is not uncommon for someone to deny a problem exists because they haven’t
experienced it for themselves. We have likely all done that at some point. The remedy for this is to
educate and not insult.

Additionally, we must be able to recognize where leaders and influencers are speaking in ways that do
not build understanding. President Trump made comments that were neither acceptable nor unitive. It
is the duty of a leader to try to unite the people he or she serves, and it is our duty as citizens to
respectfully point out when our leaders are not properly doing that. One can be in favor of a leader
while also noting when he or she does something out-of- line; in fact, it is especially important when
citizens point out questionable behavior of leaders they support.

It all boils down to this: if you want people to respect your side of any debate then begin by respecting
theirs. The more we try to yell over each other, the less we are truly heard. That is why such
misunderstandings happen.

It’s clear that we have tremendous work to do if we want to see this country become united. There is
not a single leader in this world, no matter how loved or hated they may be, that can singlehandedly
unite a nation’s citizens. Unity begins with us, the people who have to coexist with one another every
single day—the people who have the ability to build a better, stronger future now for generations to
come. As long as things like name-calling, social media arguments and closed minds and hearts exist,
though, unity is not possible and never will be.

We have a chance today, particularly while this issue is at the forefront, to begin working toward a
greater sense of understanding so that we can soon see a day where everyone can stand together.

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