U.S. national anthem protests (2016–present)
Since August 2016, some U.S. professional athletes have silently protested alleged "systematic oppression," "equality and social injustice," "racism and injustice in our criminal system," "oppression of people of color in the United States," and to not "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color" during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. The demonstrations have generated mixed reactions. Some have described them as politically urgent or patriotic, while others have called the protests unpatriotic and disrespectful of the U.S. flag, the national anthem, the police, and the military.
|U.S. national anthem protests|
|Date||August 14, 2016–ongoing (2 years and 3 days)|
|Location||National Football League stadiums|
The protests began in the National Football League (NFL) after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later kneeled during the anthem, before his team's preseason games of 2016. Throughout the 2016 season, members of various NFL and other sports teams have engaged in similar silent protests. On September 24, 2017, the NFL protests became more widespread when over 200 players sat or kneeled in response to President Donald Trump's calling for owners to "fire" the protesting players.
On May 23, 2018, the NFL commissioner and team owners approved a new policy requiring all players to stand during the anthem or be given the option to stay in the locker room during its performance.
Meaning behind protesting the U.S. national anthem and kneelingEdit
It is a tradition in the United States to play The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem, before sporting events. Those present are expected to stand at attention with right hand over heart. National Football League (NFL) players were not mandated to be on the field for the playing of the national anthem until 2009. In 2016, the NFL has stated that "players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem"; its game operations manual reads that players "should stand" for the anthem.
Americans are divided on the intended meaning of the anthem. Some believe it salutes military and police officers who have died on duty; for others, it honors the United States generally. Between 2012 and 2015, the Department of Defense gave $6.8 million to teams across all major sports in exchange for holding various military and patriotic events at their games, including the performance of the national anthem.
Kaepernick and his 49ers teammate Eric Reid say they choose to kneel during the anthem to call attention to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality. "After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, ... during the anthem as a peaceful protest," said Reid. "We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy." Kneeling is by some considered disrespectful to those who have died or been wounded in service of the United States, such as police officers or military veterans. Torrey Smith, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles said in an interview "I understand why people are offended by people protesting the National Anthem. My father served 25 years. When he dies, he's going to be wrapped in an American flag. But my dad is also out of the Army, and he drives trucks all over the country, and he's a black man everywhere he goes, and sometimes he has racial incidents still today. That doesn't protect him, just because he served our country. And I think that's important."
Criminal justice reform is one of the top issues that NFL players have been protesting. Kaepernick was initially moved to protest by the deaths of African Americans by police actions or while in police custody that gained prominence through the Black Lives Matter movement and through general reporting in recent years. During a post-game interview on August 26, 2016, he stated, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder", adding that he would continue to protest during the anthem until he feels like "[the United States flag] represents what it's supposed to represent."
After that interview, Kaepernick pledged to donate the first $1 million of his $11.9 million salary from the 2016–2017 season to different organizations that help communities in need. He pledged to donate $100,000 per month for 10 months to various organizations. Days later, the San Francisco 49ers matched Kaepernick by pledging $1 million to two organizations addressing racial and social inequality. Kaepernick has been following through on his commitment and has donated $900,000 as of September 2017 to groups including Meals on Wheels, United We Dream, Black Veterans for Social Justice and many others. Kaepernick has also held “Know Your Rights” camps for young people of color. The camps include legal education from attorneys that give advice on how to interact with police when being detained and lectures from prominent academics on the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) named Kaepernick the Week One MVP in September 2017 for his charity work related to the protest.
Trump calls for firing protesting playersEdit
In September 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem, and encouraged fans to walk out. Trump advised NFL owners to say "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!" Trump called the players' protest "a total disrespect of our heritage." He went on to say that new NFL safety rules meant to protect players from concussions are ruining the game. His statement came after new research indicates NFL players are at high risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) due to the likelihood of multiple head injuries.
Although 70 percent of NFL players were black, Trump denied his criticism of the protesters was related to race. "This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag," he said. In the games immediately following Trump's statements, the protest gained broader participation when over 200 players sat or kneeled during the anthem, others linked arms with their teammates or raised fists, and three teams chose to stay in the locker room for the anthem. However, the response was more a reaction to Trump than Kaepernick's original protests of racial injustice. Reasons cited by players, owners, and coaches included supporting freedom of speech and opposing what they considered intimidation by Trump. Others said they took offense to Trump demeaning the integrity of their primarily African American colleagues, when a month earlier he had called the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville, Virginia, "Very fine people". The reaction to Trump's remarks overshadowed other ongoing issues his administration was facing, including failed attempts at healthcare reform, the primary election loss of Trump-backed candidate Luther Strange for the Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate, recovery efforts for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and relations with North Korea over their nuclear and missile testing.
Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem at the start of the 2016 NFL preseason. His actions went unnoticed for two weeks before he was questioned by the media. In the 49ers' final 2016 preseason game on September 1, 2016, after talking to Boyer, Kaepernick opted to kneel during the U.S. national anthem rather than sit as he did in their previous games. He explained his decision to switch was an attempt to show more respect to former and current U.S. military members while still protesting during the anthem. Eric Reid joined Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem during the final preseason game. Seattle Seahawks player Jeremy Lane also did not stand for the anthem during his final preseason game the same day, stating, "It's something I plan to keep on doing until justice is being served."
In Week 1, eleven NFL players joined Kaepernick's protests. Denver Broncos player Brandon Marshall knelt during the national anthem prior to the start of the Kickoff game, which was broadcast on NBC. The act of kneeling as protest has been referred to as "taking a knee". Kaepernick and Marshall were teammates at the University of Nevada. On September 11, Kansas City Chiefs player Marcus Peters raised his fist while the rest of the team interlocked their arms showing solidarity. Two members of the New England Patriots, Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett, raised their fists on Sunday Night Football. The entire Seattle Seahawks team stood and interlocked arms. Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Kenny Stills, and Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins all kneeled during the National Anthem. At the same time, a group of Jacksonville Jaguars players, led by cornerback Prince Amukamara, initially planned to join the protest but chose not to do so after photographs of Kaepernick wearing socks with a crude anti-police message during training camp were made public.
On November 13, 2016, 5 days after Donald Trump was elected President, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide-receiver Mike Evans decided to sit during the national anthem. According to Sports Illustrated, Evans said, "If this happens, then America's not right right now. I said this a long time ago. When he ran, I thought it was a joke, and the joke continues. I'm not a political person that much, but I got common sense. And I know when something's not right." However, his protest began the day following Veterans Day, so he received criticism. He quickly changed his method of protesting and joined his teammates during the following game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He apologized to veterans and other members of the military for his actions – citing that the timing of his protest was poor. "On the field, I'm going to continue to do what I do – play hard. I'm playing hard because I've got this right – freedom, because of the vets. I'm going to reach out to organizations, organizations that I feel are doing the best job to help the minority ... women, LGBT, African Americans, Latinos, people that are in fear of Donald Trump and his presidency."
In Week 3 of the season the majority of games were played two days after Trump made his statements. The protest gained broader participation when over 200 players sat or kneeled during the anthem. Many players, coaches and NFL teams protested and/or issued statements expressing dismay with Trump's comments:
- Twenty-seven members of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars kneeled during the American National Anthem at their game at Wembley Stadium in London. Retired Ravens star and honorary Team Captain Ray Lewis kneeled with members of his team. All of the players stood for the British national anthem "God Save the Queen" with many remaining in locked arms.
- Several members of the Philadelphia Eagles raised their fists during the anthem before their game against the New York Giants. Before the same game, various Giants players stood with arms locked while others kneeled.
- The Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans did not take the field during the playing of the anthem, staying in their locker rooms until it concluded. The players of the Seahawks released a statement saying, "We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms." Meghan Linsey, the Nashville singer who performed the anthem, kneeled when she completed the song.
- Before the opening of their game against the Houston Texans, various New England Patriots players and staff also expressed their concerns, including quarterback Tom Brady locking arms with Phillip Dorsett, and head coach Bill Belichick crossing his arms in front of him. Sixteen members of the Patriots kneeled during the anthem. Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he was disappointed at the tone in which Trump's comments were made.
- Several members of the Miami Dolphins wore "#IMWITHKAP" T-shirts on the field during the pregame warmup, in support of Kaepernick's actions. The team locked arms during the anthem, with five members kneeling. The opposing team, the New York Jets, also linked arms during the anthem.
- All Pittsburgh Steelers players except Alejandro Villanueva, who served as an Army Ranger, refused to leave the locker room during the anthem. On the sideline, the Chicago Bears players locked their arms while the anthem was performed. Villanueva has since expressed regret for his actions.
- The majority of the Oakland Raiders either sat or knelt during the anthem, with several members of the opposing Washington Redskins either kneeling or joining arms as well.
- Thirty-two members of the Denver Broncos kneeled during the anthem. At least ten members of the Buffalo Bills also kneeled during the anthem, while other team members locked arms. Running back LeSean McCoy said "My message to him (Trump) is, be a president, be respectful, man. You know, us Americans, we are together. Stop trying to divide us." McCoy performed stretches during the national anthem.
- The Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals players locked arms during the anthem, while everyone on the Cowboys, including owner and general manager Jerry Jones, kneeled before the anthem was played.
- The New Orleans Saints established a plan with their team prior to their game against the Miami Dolphins on how they will handle the national anthem before the game. Drew Brees stood and stated the thoughts of his team as a whole by tweeting "As a way to show respect to all, our #Saints team will kneel in solidarity prior to the national anthem & stand together during the anthem."
- More than ten Indianapolis Colts and about 20 Cleveland Browns players kneeled on one knee while the remaining players locked arms during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Indianapolis, Indiana which was met by boos from the crowd[clarification needed] at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indiana is the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, who weeks later intentionally walked out of a Colts game against the 49ers.
In Week 8 at Seattle, the majority of the Texans players kneeled during the anthem after Houston owner Bob McNair had commented about having the "inmates running the prison" during a league owner meeting regarding the ongoing protest. McNair had apologized, stating that he was not referring to the players, but rather to the "relationship between the league office and team owners." It was the first time a Texans player had knelt during the anthem.
On May 23, 2018, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and all NFL team owners except for two owners that abstained from voting in a show of hand voting process, approved a new policy requiring all players to stand during the national anthem or given the option to stay in the locker room during the national anthem. The vote took place without consulting the NFLPA. Any players from all NFL teams who protest the anthem while on the field will become subject to discipline from the league. In addition, the teams as a whole will be subject to punishment and other forms of discipline from the NFL as a result.
In disagreement with the policy, several players on the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles indicated they would decline an invitation from Trump to visit the White House on June 5, leading the President to rescind the offer the day before the event. The Eagles were the second sports franchise that Trump had uninvited, joining the 2017 National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Golden State Warriors, whose visit was cancelled after several players publicly declined to attend.
On July 19, the NFL and the players association issued a joint statement that "no rules relating to the anthem will be issued for the next several weeks." This came after the Associated Press had reported earlier in the day that Miami team rules stated that improper anthem conduct could result in a player suspension of up to four games, more than some players receive for violating the league's domestic violence policy. The following day, Trump tweeted that players should be suspended for one game the first time kneeling, and for the entire season without pay after a second offense.
Other athletes joinEdit
Seattle Reign FC and U.S. women's national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem in a game on September 5, 2016, explaining that her decision was a "nod to Kaepernick and everything that he's standing for right now". In a subsequent match at the Washington Spirit, Spirit owner Bill Lynch – anticipating Rapinoe's protest – moved the national anthem's performance without warning or notice to occur before the players' appearances on the pitch. Jeff Plush, the league's commissioner, was present at the game and told reporters that he was unaware of Lynch's plans and disagreed with the act of moving the anthem's performance. The Spirit's players issued a joint statement also disagreeing with Lynch's decision to move the anthem without first consulting the team's players or coaches.
As a member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, Rapinoe also knelt before an international friendly match against Thailand on September 16, despite public statements of disagreement with her protest methods issued before the match by the U.S. Soccer Federation and her coach Jill Ellis. U.S. Soccer proceeded to pass a policy that now requires all of its players to stand “respectfully” during the national anthem making it the first American sports league or governing body to do so.
On October 1, at East Carolina University, about 19 members of the band kneeled, while about another two held the American flag during the national anthem at the beginning of the football game against the University of Central Florida. There have been almost no such incidents involving college football players, for the simple reason that college players and coaches are typically in the locker room when the anthem is played. There has been at least one exception to the rule, however. During a September 2016 away game at Northwestern, where players are traditionally on the field during the anthem, three Nebraska players knelt on the sideline. The NCAA football rulebook does not address the issue of pregame ceremonies (patriotic or otherwise) at all, except to say that team captains must be present for a coin toss three minutes before the first-half kickoff.
College of the Ozarks president Jerry Davis announced in September 2017 that his college's teams would refuse to play any team whose players knelt during the anthem. In response, the NAIA chose to move its Division II men's basketball champion game away from College of the Ozarks' Keeter Gymnasium (where the championship game had been held since 2000) to Sanford Pentagon, South Dakota.
On September 2, 2016, a football player at Brunswick High School in Ohio knelt during the national anthem after he heard his teammates saying "nigger". After his protest, the player received racial threats. On September 9, high school players across the country knelt during the national anthem. On September 23, four players from Withrow High School, three black and one white, in Cincinnati knelt during the national anthem before their football game.
In September 2017, Principal Waylon Bates of Parkway High School in Louisiana referred to the national anthem protests as a "disruption" and threatened to kick any player out of the football team if he knelt during the national anthem. Two black students on the Victory & Praise Christian Academy football team protested during the anthem. Immediately after the anthem concluded, their coach removed them from the team, having them take off their uniforms on the sidelines.
On September 23, 2017, Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics knelt during the national anthem, becoming the first MLB player to join the protest. His team backed him up by saying, "The Oakland A's pride ourselves on being inclusive. We respect and support all of our players' constitutional rights and freedom of expression." Maxwell received a standing ovation from A's fans before his first at-bat following his protest.
On September 24, 2017, prior to Game 1 of the 2017 WNBA Finals, players from the Los Angeles Sparks chose to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, while members of the Minnesota Lynx locked arms on the court.
On October 7, 2017, J. T. Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning raised his fist while standing on the bench during the national anthem. He had also done the same in a preseason game, in an attempt to "bring awareness to police brutality against minorities and racial inequality." He stated that he had "received death threats" after the protest.
In September 2016, President Barack Obama stated that Kaepernick was "exercising his constitutional right" to protest. He went on: "I don't doubt his sincerity. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about. If nothing else, he's generated more conversation about issues that have to be talked about."
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg criticized the protest as "dumb and disrespectful," stating that athletes have the right to protest "if they want to be stupid." The Supreme Court later issued a statement from Ginsburg stating that her comments were "inappropriately dismissive and harsh. I should have declined to respond."
On September 25, 2017, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee knelt on the floor of the House of Representatives. Fellow congressman Mark Pocan kneeled on the floor of the House the next day.
On October 8, 2017, Vice President Mike Pence left a game between the NFL's Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, members of which had knelt during the anthem, "because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."
”We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their internet folks, start hashtagging out #TakeAKnee and also hashtagging out #BoycottNFL,” he said during a hearing on threats faced by the United States.“They were taking both sides of the argument this weekend ... to try to raise the noise level of America and make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue as they are trying to push divisiveness in this country.”
Major sports sponsors Nike, Under Armour, and Ford all issued statements in support of athletes' freedom of expression after Trump's comments regarding the NFL. Nike's statement read, "Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.” In September 2016, after Brandon Marshall knelt during the national anthem, Century Link and Air Academy Federal Credit Union dropped him as a paid sponsor. Radio station WFAY dropped a broadcast of an East Carolina University football game on the station after the marching band took part in the protest, calling it an insult to the U.S. Armed Forces. John Schnatter of sponsor Papa John's Pizza blamed the protests for a drop in sales and a 24% fall in stock during 2017, saying that the "controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country." Later that day, the company announced that the NFL shield or "official sponsor" designation on Papa John's commercials and advertising would be removed. In December 2017 Sanderson Farms CEO questioned whether the NFL protests were to blame for falling chicken wing prices.
Athletes and sports mediaEdit
Throughout the remainder of the 2016 season, Kaepernick received public backlash for his protest, with an anonymous NFL executive calling Kaepernick "a traitor". He also stated that he received death threats.
Sportscaster Bob Costas offered support for Kaepernick stating, "Patriotism comes in many forms and what has happened is it's been conflated with a bumper-style kind of flag-waving and with the military only so that people cannot see that in his own way Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing."
Trent Dilfer criticized Kaepernick. "The big thing that hit me through all this was this is a backup quarterback whose job is to be quiet, and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play Week 1," Dilfer said on Sunday NFL Countdown. "Yet he chose a time where all of a sudden he became the center of attention. And it has disrupted that organization. It has caused friction. And it's torn at the fabric of the team."
Stemming from the Kaepernick controversy, before the beginning of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament in Toronto, Canada, Team USA coach John Tortorella told in an interview that if any one of his players were to sit out during the anthem, they would sit on the bench for the entire duration of the game.
The September 2016 police shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott bolstered support for his protest. Kaepernick said of the Terence Crutcher shooting, "this is a perfect example of what this is about." Boxer Floyd Mayweather, criticized Kaepernick, stating, “You know, a lot of times, we get stuck, and we are followers. When you hear one person say ‘black lives matter’ or ‘blue lives matter,’ all lives matter.” Adding moments later, “With me being a fighter, and my hands being registered, if I hit a guy for breaking in my house, or breaking in my car, it’s gonna cost me more money, so I gotta work smarter, not harder. I’m gonna call the cops.”
Discussion continued throughout August 2017. Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said, "I think he's getting a raw deal" from the NFL. That same month, Pro Football Hall of Famer and longtime civil rights activist Jim Brown, who a year earlier supported Kaepernick "100 percent," now criticized him, suggesting Kaepernick ought to decide whether to be an athlete or an activist. "I'm an American," said Brown. "I don't desecrate my flag and my national anthem. … This is my country, and I'll work out the problems, but I'll do it in an intelligent manner."
Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick's former coach, penned a strong statement of support for him as part of Time's "100 Most Influential People" series. Harbaugh wrote, "His willingness to take a position at personal cost is now part of our American story. How lucky for us all and for our country to have among our citizens someone as remarkable as Colin Kaepernick."
NASCAR team owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress have supported Trump and said that they would fire drivers and employees who would not stand for the national anthem. Petty said, "Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem ought to be out of the country. Period." Childress said, "It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus" if anyone on his team protested the anthem. Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., however, expressed support for the peaceful protests, quoting President John F. Kennedy, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." NASCAR released a statement on September 25 in response to the protests that said, "Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion."
Jemele Hill, an ESPN anchor who called Trump a "white supremacist" in a series of tweets earlier in the month, tweeted, "Just so we're clear: the president's comments will only incite more player protests, not quell them." following the Trump's initial response to the protests. Hill was later put on a two-week suspension for "a second violation of our social media guidelines," after Hill suggested people direct their disagreements towards advertisers of Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, after Jones stated he will bench any player who protested the national anthem on October 9, 2017.
On September 25, 2017, Bill Russell posted a photo to Twitter while kneeling and wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom. On September 26, 2017, Joey Odoms, the national anthem singer for the home games of the Ravens, resigned citing the "tone/actions of a large number of NFL fans in the midst of our country's cultural crisis."
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka commented, "If you don't respect our country, then you shouldn't be in this country playing football…So I would say, adios." He added that he was “not condemning anybody or criticizing anybody" in his remarks. According to Ditka, "there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”
Eddie Vedder, Pharrell Williams, Dave Matthews, John Legend and Roger Waters knelt to support the protests during concerts on September 24. The same day Sonequa Martin-Green posted in her Instagram account a picture of several members from Star Trek: Discovery's cast alongside producer Akiva Goldsman and herself kneeling. Shonda Rhimes posted a photo kneeling with the cast of Grey's Anatomy.
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