Dissent and protests are an extremely integral part of any democracy. A world without any need to protest is a utopian fantasy, and a world without a permission to protest is a dictatorship. When a section of the society feels the bite of unjust treatment and oppression, it eventually rises up in protest. Since August 2016, a lot of American athletes have clenched their fists of dissent against social injustice, systematic oppression of the non-white population and a racism driven bias against people of colour within the judicial system. Since 2017, the protests have also expanded to include criticism towards certain policies of the Trump Administration. The protests have usually manifested themselves through a lot of athletes kneeling through the playing of the national anthem. These protests have had very polarizing reactions, with some people praising them as socially conscious, politically relevant and patriotic, while others have labelled the protests unpatriotic and a disrespectful gesture towards the American national anthem, flag, millitary and law enforecement.
San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been the spearhead of these protests. He started his protest during the 2016 NFL pre-season by sitting during the national anthem and eventually kneeling through it. Throughout the season, many players joined in the protest by kneeling, sitting or warming up while the national anthem played. September 24th, 2017 marked the high point of the protest movement when more than 200 NFL players sat or kneeled to protest against President Donald Trump‘s appeal to NFL team owners to fire all protesting players.
Eventually, the NFL team owners and commissioner passed a new policy which required all players to stand for the national anthem. The players who don’t want to stand for the anthem, have to stay within the locker room.
Oddly enough, until 2009, it was not mandated for NFL players to be on the field while Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem was played during the pre-game ceremony. In a 2016 press release, the NFL stated that “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem”. However, the NFL’s game operations manual specifically mentions that players “should stand” for the anthem.
The Department of Defense has famously paid $6.8 million to teams across all major North American pro sports leagues for organising millitary and patriotic events before games, including a fantastic performance of the national anthem and an exciting fly-over conducted by fighter jets.
Colin Kaepernick and his teammate Eric Reid had this to say about their protest: “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. 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.”
The 2018-2019 NFL season is all set to start next week and the anthem protests are still looming over the league as a major issue. According to a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, the majority of the United States of America believes that players kneeling during the national anthem before the start of games are doing something inappropriate.
Fifty four percent of the respondents deemed the kneeling totally inappropriate. Forty three percent of the respondents believed that kneeling was the right way to protest and bring attention to the issues that the NFL players have been talking about. Three percent of the respondents had no concrete opinion on this matter.
The poll arrives hot off the heels of a controversial ruling passed by an arbitrator that Kaepernick will receive a court hearing based on his accusations against the NFL. He has accused NFL teams and owners of colluding to get him out of the NFL and denying him the rights to sign with the team.
President Donald Trump has breathed fire and vitriol on all the protestors from the NFL. He has vehemently condemned the protests against racial discrimination and police brutality directed against people of colour. The issue is bound to reverberate through the halls of the American Senate throughout the imminent future.
President Trump has gone as far as call the protesting NFL players ‘sons of b*****s’. He also cancelled the customary annual White House visit of the Super Bowl champions. According to a White House representative, the invitation to the Philadelphia Eagles was withdrawn because the “unable to come because they disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”
Delving deeper into the poll reveals that America is deeply divided along political lines. Over 88 percent of Republican voters have deemed the kneeling inappropriate while over 72 percent of Democrat voters have deemed the protest completely appropriate. 57 percent of the Indpendent voters deemed the protests inappropriate as well.
Among the Black African-American community, 70% of the respondents found the kneeling completely appropriate and representative of their real life plight. Among the White Caucasian community, only 38 percent of the respondents found the kneeling appropriate. The Hispanic community was split a lot more evenly, with 51 percent deeming the kneeling inappropriate and 47 percent considering it appropriate.
The NFL fans are relatively more sympathetic towards the protesting players, where 46 percent of the respondents found the protests appropriate. Among non NFL fans, 57 percent deemed the protests inappropriate.
The poll was conducted between August 18th and 22nd, among 900 respondents, with an error margin with of +/- 3.27 percentage points.