Football is one of America’s favorite sports. More than 30 teams play in a league called the National Football League, which is known as the NFL. The NFL is supposed to be a symbol of athleticism, teamwork, and sportsmanship, that all Americans can identify with and appreciate. However, political stances has recently infiltrated the sport of football. The NFL has now become a political commentary, drawing attention away from the essence of the sport.
During the preseason of the 2016 NFL season, the 49ers starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, started sitting on the bench during the national anthem performance at the game, in protest of police brutality in America. At first, Kaepernick went unnoticed. He decided to take protesting a step further and kneel during the anthem next to his standing teammates. This is when his cause starting gaining momentum. In August of 2016, social media and the news blew up in coverage about Kaepernick kneeling. People burned his jerseys, criticized the NFL, and some even stopped watching the games.
So, why is this issue coming back over a year later? Some other players and coaches took Kaepernick’s side on the issue, and they kneeled, raised their fist, or locked arms in solidarity with Kaepernick throughout the 2016 season, which is now beginning to occur again.
As soon as more players started kneeling at the start of this season, President Donald Trump came out and commented on the issue. On September 23rd, Trump tweeted, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” (@realdonaldtrump). Trump is clearly against players kneeling for the anthem, but his tweet backfired. The New York Post reported that more than 200 NFL players defiantly took a knee during the national anthem at their games Sunday while hundreds of other grid stars locked arms with their coaches — and even some team owners — in protest of President Trump, who had ripped the league over the weekend. This was a record number of players that kneeled, and many people say Trump’s comments made the whole situation much worse. Trump is also being criticized because he said that the players should be fired, yet they have the right to kneel during the anthem, due to what it written in the First Amendment. Sports Illustrated, a popular sports magazine said that more than 3/4 of the league's owners have made a statement regarding Trump's comments, and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who attended Sunday's game called Trump's comments ‘disgraceful.’ At every game during week 3 of the NFL season, players either kneeled, locked arms, raised fists, or were not on the field during the anthem. During the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Chicago Bears game on Sunday, offensive lineman and military veteran Alejandro Villanueva was the only Steelers player on the field, standing with his hand over his heart during the anthem. Villanueva served 4 tours in Afghanistan, and he was proudly standing for the National Anthem.
President Trump clearly believes that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the flag, the country, and to those who died fighting for freedom. Others, including famous musician Stevie Wonder claim that the protests are not against veterans or the military, but are against racism in the United States, and side with NFL players kneeling. People also say that the flag is a reminder of freedom, and those who died fighting for the freedom allow the players to kneel during the anthem.
In week 4 of the season, not nearly as many players kneeled for the anthem, but teams including the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys kneeled before the anthem, which Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant said it was to show how President Trump’s comments will not divide everyone, but it will unify them.
Although it is argued that the protests are done to protest against police brutality and racism in the United States, many people believe that it is out of pure disrespect for the country. The NFL has millions of viewers per week, and according to a recent internal memo from the NFL, the numbers have dropped. The memo addressed the league’s concern about declining viewership, stating that as of Week 4, ratings were down by 11 percent. So where does this end? Will it end? Roger Goodell took stance on the issue on October 10th, stating that players should all stand for the National Anthem, and honor the flag and the country. He also said that the NFL is trying to “move past” this controversy. A point was made by Malcolm Jenkins, a Philadelphia Eagles player. He wrote in the Washington Post about the issue and said, “Well, we want to make America great. We want to help make our country safe and prosperous. We want a land of justice and equality. True patriotism is loving your country and countrymen enough to want to make it better.” Jenkins’ point of view is that to end the protests, change needs to happen. That change is being attempted by fellow teammate of Jenkins, Chris Long. Long was going around Philadelphia, talking to police officers, community leaders, and public defenders about the issues he believes that occur in the country. Jenkins’ also points out that “this is where we need to point our attention now, not to guys demonstrating but to the issues and work to be done in cities across the country.”
The fans have spoken, it is clear from a drop in viewership and the anger of everyone that fans want one thing; football, and football only, and that is the way it should stay.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.