In the past few weeks the country has been discussing professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem, an act originally initiated in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback played with the San Francisco 49ers starting in 2011 when the team had a 13-3 season but lost to the New York Giants who went on to win that year’s Super Bowl. Kaepernick is now a free agent which many sports analysts argue is due to his visible protests of what he sees as systematic oppression of minorities particularly through police brutality.
A year and a new president later, numerous other NFL players have begun “taking a knee” during the anthem before games. According to non-partisan media source Axios, up to 2009 it was customary for NFL players to stay in the locker room and come onto the field after the anthem was sung or played. In the last eight years, however, the pattern has shifted and players typically come onto the field and stand for the anthem.
Since 2016, numerous other athletes have followed Kaepernick’s example, but the last three weeks have seen a widespread increase in NFL players protesting. Numerous media outlets have reported on protests including the majority of the Oakland Raiders taking a knee or sitting during their game against the Washington Redskins, more than a dozen players from the New England Patriots in their game against the Houston Texans, several members of the Kansas City Chiefs in their game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers and many more.
In the polarized national political atmosphere, reactions to the protest have included everything from tweets by the President calling for the firing of those who choose to take a knee, to major sponsors like Nike, Under Armor and Ford coming out in support of palyers’ right to freedom of expression.
The debate on the topic of taking a knee has not been ignored at Mercer.
A VOICE survey of 50 Mercer students found that over 75 percent of those surveyed said that players are entitled to their own opinion, while under 25 percent said that kneeling is disrespectful to the flag.
Although the majority who were surveyed were in favor of the players, some believed that this was not the best way of protesting.
Gianni Gonzalez, a Business Administration major, was one who did not think the protesting was a good way for the players to get their point across. Gonzalez told The VOICE, “The kneeling has created a lot of hate even though that was never their goal.” He added that despite him thinking there are better ways of protesting, he is in favor of players being able to voice their beliefs however they wish.
Mercer’s Athletic Director, John Simone echoed Gonzalez’s view to some extent, telling The VOICE, “The players have a right to their freedom of speech and freedom of expression.” Although he believes that, he says it does have the potential to disrupt team culture.
Simone went on to say that there is and can be no policy prohibiting kneeling here at Mercer since we are a public institution. When asked if there has been any kneeling being conducted at Mercer he told The VOICE, “Not yet.”
However, Simone says he does believe there could be some kneeling as winter sports begin. He told The VOICE there will be a conversation with players telling them that they have a right to sit, kneel or stand.
Mercer men’s basketball plays Valley Forge Military Academy, and they have asked their opponents to let them know a few days in advance if there will be any kneeling being conducted.
Recently NFL owner, Jerry Jones, said that should a member of his Dallas Cowboys chose to kneel they would be benched. That would not be the case at Mercer. Simone said, “Since we are a public institution there would be no consequences.”
Though numerous pundits who object to the protests say it is disrespectful or disruptive, if the goal is to draw attention to the political issues that are inspiring the protest, the amount of media coverage suggests it is working.
The connection between racial issues and sports is not new in American culture. It goes back at least a far as the Negro baseball teams that rose to popularity in the 1920s.
One particularly notable incident is the fist raising protest of the African American track and field Olympic Medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. After winning gold and bronze, respectively during the 2000 meter dash at the 1968 games in Mexico City, they famously raised their fists during the playing of the anthem. Although they were widely criticized in the media at the time, the event is notable in Civil Rights history. They later received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2008.
Athletic Director Simone told The VOICE that should Mercer athletes chose to kneel, he hopes they do so for a good reason.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the 49ers rather than the Giants as the winners of the 2011 Super Bowl. The article has been corrected to reflect that change.