OPINION: NFL Protests Are About Standing Against Injustice

By Naomi Metoyer

OwlFeed Journalist

History similar to that of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King is being made in our very own stadiums today, giving a voice to the millions who are so dearly in need of one.

Starting with Colin Kaepernick back in 2016’s preseason, football players all over America have made a point to kneel during the national anthem in protest to the police brutality that has resulted in the oppression and killing of countless African-Americans.

It is no secret the racist past of America, of which still affects our nation to this day. Perhaps we are beyond the inequality of the white-only vote and segregation, but our progress is premature and underdeveloped. The lynchings of the twentieth century are gone, yet black Americans are still unsafe in their communities.

Many critics have called the protests disrespectful to veterans who have fought and died for the right to kneel or protest. However, I disagree, as do the protesters and some veterans.

According to the Huffington Post, Army Veteran Richard Allen Smith says, “There are veterans who not only agree with Colin Kaepernick’s right to do that, but also agree with the substance of the action,” and that many times, “politicians and corporations… use the military and its servicemen and women for promotion… like props for people who haven’t made the sacrifice, but want to cloak themselves in their credibility.”

Would you feel respected if you were to risk your life only to come back to a divided country? If the sacrifices of your friends and comrades were used  to sweep under the rug the deaths of the people you fought to protect? To find your home torn to division, using your experiences to fuel their conflict? To leave war only to come straight into another?

Eric Reid, fellow protester and friend of Colin Kaepernick, gives his own perspective pertaining to the NFL protest in an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. He writes in his article that the kneeling was meant to shed light on the subject while being respectful. This action is not only better than sitting, but is, as he says, meant to send a similar message to a flag at half mast, fitting for the tragedy he and Kaepernick mean to highlight.

I think critics call these protests disrespectful because they are uncomfortable with black people protesting.

The Mercury News

These criticisms may stem from strong patriotism, a trait that is no fault within itself. But what happens when this principle of pride for country takes precedence over the human being, over our neighbor, over the fellow countrymen? This is when we fail ourselves and the very ideals we claim to stand so defiantly for.

As Americans, we boast a free society where voice, protest, and expression are the foundations of our lives. It seems to me like these protests are only acceptable when it is in support of the white population. Why is it that nearly every form of black protest, like protests from Black Lives Matter, is shamed for its motives and inappropriateness, despite the various platforms and approaches it takes on?

Let’s look at history.

The very existence of slaves, of whom had no choice in their position, challenged the ideas within the Constitution. Skip a few hundred years to the sit-ins of the 1960’s. During this time period, African American populations followed the example of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, in defiance to the people who continued in their pursuit to rid them of their voices, freedoms, and rights.

These silent protests within the NFL are being ridiculed for their lack of professionalism and endorsement of disunity. The same was said fifty years ago. According to the Chicago Tribune, a poll from “1967, half of whites said [Martin Luther King] was harming blacks, with only 36 percent disagreeing.”

The opposition against today’s NFL protests is not due to a feeling of love for some flag or a centuries old song, but against the group that is attracting this attention.

“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.” Colin Kaepernick said, according to the New York Times. The famous athlete lost his job for his beliefs about equality.

As a black man, Kaepernick felt it was his duty to shed light on a problem so many glaze over. He believed he had a duty to use his fame to fix what his nation had failed to for so long.

This is bigger than football. Bigger than a knee or a flag. This is more important than debates or “selfish” football players.This is about a nation who has been divided by color and has forgotten that sufficient progress is still yet to be made.

It is NOT a debate on the right to protest. It is not about kneeling or standing, respect or hate. This is about standing against injustice, inequality, and division. It is a shame we have yet to realize that.