By Military1 Staff
On Aug. 14, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem before the team’s first preseason game. When the media noticed his ritual during the third preseason game, he told reporters he was sitting in protest of racial injustices.
His actions sparked debate around the country on the proper channel for protests and the level of respect that should be given to the anthem, the flag and the troops that defend it.
Even with Kaepernick out of the league this year, his movement has carried on. A handful of players chose to protest during the national anthem at the beginning of the 2017 NFL season, which prompted a firestorm of commentary from President Trump.
During a campaign rally in Alabama, the president said owners should consider firing players who abstain from participating in the national anthem in the traditional manner—standing with their hand over their heart.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners when somebody disrespects the flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field’?” Trump asked the crowd.
His comments prompted hundreds of NFL players, along with many coaches and owners to protest during the national anthem, some kneeling, some standing with arms locked in what they called “unity” with one another.
Those supporting the NFL protests say that kneeling during the anthem is not a sign of disrespect; rather, it is a display of protected first amendment speech that has long been utilized by athletes.
Critics, however, point to the symbolism the flag holds for members of the military, saying those kneeling during the anthem are showing a lack of respect for servicemembers and veterans.
The anger at the protest is spilling over into disillusionment with the NFL itself for allowing it. Football fans have posted on social media their intent to boycott the league, some even donating money that would have gone to purchasing unlimited access, such as with DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, to veteran’s organizations.
For their part, veterans are offering both support and criticism to those athletes protesting, further complicating the issue, and who is in the right.
Some say they served to protect the rights of all Americans, even those whose actions they don't agree with. On Twitter, those in support of the NFL protests are using the hashtag #VetsForKaepernick.
I'm a disabled combat veteran and I support Kaepernick's right to free speech. #vetsforkaepernick— mroldman (@mrsonoflars) September 23, 2017
The controversy has only grown larger as more athletes and team personnel participate in the protests, moving the debate from one about racial inequality to freedom of speech and unity.
It's unclear when a resolution might present itself, or how long the protests could go on.
Are veterans or the flag being disrepected by those taking a knee during the national anthem, or is this a first amendment right that has been blown out of proportion?