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HARRINGTON: ‘Taking a knee’ is bigger than Trump

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

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NFL players and teams have received a myriad of criticism as of late for taking a knee during the national anthem, but regardless of what President Trump, the media or your Facebook friends tell you, these players are protesting police brutality and the treatment of minorities by police across the nation.

Kneeling during the national anthem is not about protesting Trump. It is not a statement about free speech or about professional football players being “ungrateful.” It is about police brutality, and if we as a society refuse to acknowledge that, then the protests will be in vain and nothing will change.

Colin Kaepernick was the first NFL player to protest the treatment of people of color by kneeling during the national anthem in the 2016 season, drawing inspiration from Black Lives Matter movements of the same year. Kaepernick stated outright that his protests were because of his discomfort honoring a nation that so notoriously oppressed people of color. His protests were paired with his under-publicized backing of several charities and organizations to help combat racial inequality in the country.

This protest and call for social change was, shockingly enough, met with scorn and criticism. A vocal portion of the NFL’s audience viewed Kaepernick’s protest as disrespectful to the flag and the men and women who died for this country. This was countered with an argument about Kaepernick’s right to kneel during the anthem because of those men and women’s sacrifices.

In a sense, Kaepernick was successful in creating a national dialogue. However, what this dialogue failed to include was the actual meaning and cause behind Kaepernick’s protest. Suddenly, the conversation wasn’t about the staggering racial divide in our nation but rather the right to kneel during the anthem.

The press has referred to the kneeling as a protest against Trump, who very publicly criticized Kaepernick in a speech made in September. This criticism was the impetus for a massive demonstration by players from across the entire league. Once again, the issue of free speech and honoring the military have been widely discussed while the actual issues of police brutality and inequality are pushed aside. This is even more baffling, as the protests are no longer one individual’s act of defiance, but a movement of over 200 NFL players and employees.

The American public has an almost impressive ability to routinely and unilaterally dance around the issue of racial inequality. After the unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore and even here in Milwaukee, there is an astounding lack of actual discourse following the very public abuse of minorities by America’s police forces.

A massive percentage of NFL players showed solidarity with Kaepernick’s message and knelt during the anthem, but all the media seems to be covering is Trump’s Twitter tantrums regarding the protests.

Players and organizations have even released statements explicitly stating they are protesting police brutality, but people are so eager to criticize the president that they have managed to fully and totally ignore the 900-pound elephant in the room.

If we continue to live with blinders on and shut out the more contentious controversies of our time, the issues will become worse and worse until they become irreparable. Misrepresentation of a protest’s purpose by the media is no better than attempting to silence protestors outright. The same principle applies to the appropriation of a protest to your cause, regardless of your intentions.

Anyone who knows me can confirm I’m always down for criticizing Trump. However, I can recognize that “taking a knee” is a bigger issue than my opinions of the president. It’s a wholly different issue that warrants its own discussion and should not be so widely linked to Trump.

The next time you see an article or a tweet about taking a knee, pay close attention to what controversy the article is actually talking about. Is it free speech? The sanctity of the flag and the national anthem? Or does it address the fact that this controversy started because a successful athlete used their status as a public figure to highlight the staggering levels of racial inequality in this nation?

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