Whether you think football is the British version played with your feet or the American version that incorporates pigskin, helmets, and protective padding, the relationship between football, patriotism, and free speech has been brought sharply to our attention these past few weeks. On August 26, Colin Kaepernick joined an ongoing movement of professional athletes protesting racial injustice. In his game against the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem. He asserted that his action was a protest against police violence targeting African Americans in the United States, and declared, “This is bigger than football.” Kaepernick’s teammate, Eric Reid, joined him in protest, as did Seattle Seahawks’ Jeremy Lane. On September 4, U.S. national team soccer star Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem to demonstrate her support for Kaepernick. When asked about her actions, Rapinoe said that she hoped to “spark some meaningful conversation.” She added, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.” The Seahawks also joined together to show their support by linking arms during the national anthem at their game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, September 11.
According to SportsCenter, more Kaepernick jerseys have been sold on the 49ers website last week than in the past eight months combined. This increase in sales made Kaepernick’s jersey the third best-seller in the National Football League (NFL).
Given the national attention prompted by Kaepernick, Rapinoe, and others, we decided to get the views of four M-A star athletes on the role of the national anthem and patriotism in sports.
Here’s what they had to say about Kaepernick and Rapinoe’s protests:
M-A junior Josephine Cotto is a varsity soccer player for the Bears.
“He has the right to sit during the national anthem, and I support his decision because I think he’s using his fame to draw attention towards an important issue. I think playing the national anthem at sports games is a good way to enforce sportsmanship — but I think that Kaepernick had every right to sit.” -Cotto
After hearing that Rapinoe had joined Kaepernick’s protest, Cotto expressed greater support for the causes to which the professional athletes were contributing. She asserted, “I think Colin [Kaepernick] has shed light on something that many have noticed but feared to acknowledge. I continue to admire the athletes that use their power to highlight social justice issues.”
M-A senior Jordan Mims is a running back for M-A’s football team and a sprinter for track and field.
His favorite college football team is the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss); he is a Kaepernick fan and his favorite teams in the NFL are the 49ers and the Patriots.
When asked about the recent protests, Mims noted that he had not “read too deep into it.” He felt that the role of the national anthem was to “take a moment to thank America, in a way,” and went on to say, “I really wouldn’t support what he’s doing, but he feels the way he does so I won’t hate on him.” He also assures that he is still a “Kap” fan.
M-A junior Schuyler Knapp is the captain of M-A’s varsity boys volleyball team.
“It’s totally understandable and reasonable to protest the flag because of all the injustice lately.”-Knapp
M-A junior Izzi Henig, a varsity swimmer, explained, “He has a right to protest, but I also think that when you play the national anthem at a sports game it represents more than just your country, but also fair play and sportsmanship.” Henig added, “Even if the country’s racial relations aren’t great, sports are an excellent way to come together.”
President Barack Obama told journalists in Hangzhou, China, that by protesting, Kaepernick was “exercising his constitutional right.” The president continued that he would “rather have young people who are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than people who are just sitting on the sidelines not paying attention at all.”
“And most people don’t want to change. They’re comfortable and set in their ways. But in order to change you have to be able to agitate people at times. And I think that’s something very necessary for us to improve as a country.’’– Obama