Is it anti-American to kneel for the national anthem?
- Colin Kaepernick played six seasons as the quarterback for San Francisco’s 49ers in the NFL and is currently known as a political activist endorsed by Nike. In August 2016, he kneeled for the national anthem in protest against perceived US police brutality and race inequality, saying in an interview right after, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
- A 2020 CBS News poll reflects 58% of respondents find kneeling during the national anthem “to protest racial discrimination” acceptable while 42% find it unacceptable. Among those polled, 48% of white, 88% of black, 62% of hispanic found kneeling acceptable. 88% of Democrats find kneeling acceptable while 23% of Republicans and 55% of Independents do.
- “The Star Spangled Banner” (listen here) was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 following the battle over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The poem was originally entitled “The Defense of Fort M’Henry,” and was set to music and became America’s national anthem in 1931.
- 14 teams started the NFL in September 1920, and as of 2020, just under 100 million viewers tuned in to the Super Bowl.
Kneeling for the national anthem represents a form of peaceful protest, a right protected by the First Amendment. Not only is this action legal, it represents an integral part of American democracy. Founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote, 'Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.' This demonstrates that it was not the founding fathers' intention that Americans be loyal to every facet of their country, but rather that they have the freedom to challenge their government and society when faced with injustice.
Patriotism means being devoted to one's country. That devotion can be shown by taking action to improve the systems in place, and advocate for a society in which everyone is treated equally. The Declaration of Independence states, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' When this founding principle of our country is ignored in the wake of consistent police misconduct and discrimination against people of color, it is necessary to take action.
Essentially, this protest is not anti-American because it uses the First Amendment for its intended purpose: public dissent. It is also not anti-American because it stands up for one of our country's main founding tenets, which is the equal treatment of all citizens. This protest does not condemn America as a whole, but rather seeks to improve the oppressive systems in place and ensure a brighter future for the country, a patriotic action.
Kneeling for the National Anthem is unpatriotic and perceivably disrespectful towards what it represents. When patriotic Americans come together and STAND for the anthem in mass gatherings, they do so to show their support for a country in which they are grateful for their liberty in the United States and their appreciation for those who have died for it. When someone in the military passes, the family is presented with a beautifully folded American flag as an act of thankfulness for which their loved one fought and died. While this cannot bring them back, it is at least a testament that their death and fight for the country was not in vain.
This debate also begs the question, what does kneeling for the National Anthem have to do with tackling the problem of police brutality? Kneeling as a political statement simply does not equate to recognizing how civilians, service members, law enforcement, blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians—all of us—have benefited from this country's freedoms. This anthem is for ALL of us. Some have been more vocal about negative police actions, as they are within their right to do, yet such frustration ought not to be directed at a symbol of freedom. While some may argue kneeling to be noble, this is a one-sided claim: a 2018 poll by the Washington Post revealed 53% consider it 'never appropriate' to kneel for the National Anthem. Only 42% 'said it is sometimes appropriate to protest' in this way. This further proves the country's divided state and that kneeling protesters are adding to the problem, especially in the sporting arena, which should be kept politically neutral.