By Jorel Lonesome
On Sept. 1, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, instead choosing to kneel. Following this, NFL protests gradually began to spread among different football teams and other leagues such as the NBA and MLB, and starting a national controversy. Most Lehman students and staff who spoke to the Meridian voiced support for the protests as part of a necessary conversation about racism in America.
“We need a larger voice,” said Samantha Anglero, 26, theatre major at Lehman. She added, “It’s centered around people of color tired of oppression. It’s a safe way of protesting where athletes are doing the right thing when America fails to do something about its flaws.”
Other Lehman students and staff concurred. “The protest now has nothing to do with Colin. This derived from the police brutality against people of color,” said Christopher Milton, director of pathways to student STEM success at Lehman.
“Racial injustice, most definitely,” agreed David Williams, 27, a junior and recreational therapy student at Lehman.
Kevin Rivera, a graphic designer and part time computer graphics and imaging major at Lehman, views it as a shift in historical perspective, “For one, it’s [about] inequality,” he said. “The pledge was written and took place during a time when it doesn’t apply to us now, especially people of color. More people are starting to see it as a serious issue. It went from pro athletes to people kneeling at work or at school. That is why it’s a mass attack by the whole NFL league.”
Indeed, since the protests took off, the NFL is now considered the least popular sports league in America. According to a zerohedge.com article dated Oct. 8, from the end of August to the end of September, the NFL’s popularity ratings dropped from 57 to 44 percent, and it has the highest unfavorable rating---40 percent---of any big sport, according to the Winston Group survey. The same research found that the attitude of those fans went from 73 percent favorable and 19 percent unfavorable to 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, a remarkably sudden turn against the sport.
But while the majority shifted to disapproval, some feel that outright protest is going too far. In particular, a number of army veterans feel disrespected by recent protests.
“I understand that players like Colin Kaepernick is standing up for racial injustice and violence against blacks by the police. I get that, but this is the American flag. They need to understand, you’re disrespecting those that served in the armed forces,” said Jerry Giles, 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran. He added, “We’ve put our lives on the line to protect this country and kneeling sort of feels like a slap in the face.”
“You have young men and young women dying overseas for America,” said Annette Wyss, 21, a marine recruiter. “I don’t think kneeling during the anthem is appropriate.”
However, U.S. Navy veteran Kevin O’Carrol from Queens, New York disagreed and felt it’s okay for people to express their freedom of speech. “As a navy vet, I fought for their rights to protest against racial discrimination and our frustrations of inequality in the U.S.,” he said. “America isn’t perfect like any other country. It needs to be critiqued. There’s more things besides racism that is dividing us, but these are one of those that has lasted for so long and doesn’t seem to die out anytime soon.”
Milton echoed O’Carroll’s stance. “No man or woman has to stand for the flag if they don’t want to, because it’s a free country. I think it’s a travesty. The First Amendment allows us to express freedom of speech here in America, but when people of color do it, and it doesn’t agree with the mainstream, we’re shunned upon for it.”
Anglero agreed. “I think pro athletes should represent their rights for the U.S. constitution to express themselves when they feel they need to,” she said. “It’s not dishonorable at all to kneel or raise your fist when the national anthem plays, if you feel your country does not seem to treat you equally for the color of your skin.”
“This is their right to peaceful protest,” Rivera said. “I think there’s a form of injustice that should be voiced. Colin Kaepernick has been protesting for a while and he’s not on a team now. The NFL says they’ll support the players, but they still aren’t having him play in the games. That just shows us how much they care about colored people.”
For Mouro Sow, 26, entrepreneur and Lehman graduate said, “The protests are necessary and is a conversation that needs to be discussed.” Yes, he said, players are protesting “due to racial divide. But it’s not to disrespect America and the soldiers that have fought for this country. I think you’re even more patriotic by standing up for injustice and police brutality no matter what your skin color or background is.”