When my older sister finishes her schooling at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, she will begin life as a Marine, as one of the few, the proud. I appreciate her courage and couldn’t help but feel irked when watching players in the National Football League take a knee during the national anthem on Sunday. Don’t be fooled, I’m no Trump supporter, but this issue struck a chord within me and was something I actually agreed with him on. Initially I thought, how dare teams and owners disrespect those abroad that are fighting for their freedom, protecting their ability to even take a knee in the first place? But suddenly, I came to a realization. Their locking of arms and kneeling should be taken as a compliment. Why?
Without our sons and daughters fighting abroad, we wouldn’t have the option to take a knee at all. That doesn’t mean protesting is an act of anti-nationalism or of rebellion against those serving, but rather an example of the constitutional expression they fight to protect.
Colin Kaepernick, who started this discussion in August of 2016, said “I realize that men and women of the military go out and sacrifice their lives and put themselves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech, and my freedoms in this country, and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee.” The media has taken Kaepernick’s actions and run with them, painting him as anti-American when instead, he began kneeling in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jumping on the bandwagon as usual, Trump couldn’t resist his urge to comment on this incident, despite it taking place over a year ago. At a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday, Sept. 22, Trump fired up the crowd and declared, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.” These events have exposed Trump’s intolerance for other viewpoints on the national stage.
Lebron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, took to Twitter on Sept. 23 to defend his rival, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, against attacks from President Trump. “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”
A star athlete calling the president a “bum” is almost unheard of. LeBron’s title of “the King” aside, he has developed an incredibly powerful presence in politics for someone with no prior experience in this field and set a precedent that athletes can directly challenge the president.
It isn’t just athletes veering into the world of politics these days, but even sports commentators and celebrities. Jemele Hill, co-host of SportsCenter, sparked a firestorm by tweeting “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” In the face of fierce backlash from both the president and his supporters, ESPN has stood by Hill. Instead, a spokesman for ESPN released a statement to the Washington Post saying, “Jemele has a right to her personal opinions.”
Freedom of speech is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted by anyone, whether you’re one of the greatest basketball players in the world or just a journalism student writing a newspaper article. In their coverage of the NFL protests, the media has completely twisted their original objective. What was meant to be a peaceful demonstration against police brutality and how it affects Black people, has been portrayed by the media as an outright act of anti-nationalism. Whether you support the Black Lives Matter movement or not, Kaepernick should be admired for expressing his views on the world stage. His influence has created waves that teams and now even coaches have followed by locking arms or sometimes taking a knee as well.
Hill’s statements on Twitter have been ripped apart by supporters of the president. Yet no matter how worked up people get, Hill’s opinions on the President should have no impact on her career as a sports commentator. These important figures in the athletic industry have every right to use their platforms to share their views, some would say they even have the obligation to do so. In a press conference after Steph Curry announced that he would decline the invite to the White House, he said, “You can talk about all the different personalities that have said things and done things—from Kaepernick to what happened with Michael Bennett to all sorts of examples of what has gone on in our country that has led to change. We’re all trying to do what we can using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that.” I couldn’t have said (or tweeted) it better myself.
Gretchen Keller is a collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]