31 Aug, 2017
National anthem protests: speaking up can be a double-edged sword
A year ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick suited up for a week three preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. That wasn’t the story.
The story was that he decided to sit during the national anthem as a form of protest. His actions sparked a nationwide debate about racial issues in this country that split fans into unwavering supporters and staunch detractors.
Fast forward to today. As we approach the season kickoff, the outspoken quarterback is an unsigned free agent. While Kaepernick waits for his chance to make an impact on the field, it’s clear that he’s still made a significant impact on the sidelines with the national anthem movement he has popularized.
Prior to last Saturday’s preseason game against the Rams, the Oakland Raiders made demonstrations of their own during the playing of the national anthem. Marshawn Lynch sat down, Bruce Irvin held his fist in the air, and Derek Carr placed his hand around Khalil Mack’s shoulder.
Those three gestures are just some of the many actions that players have taken to shed light on an issue that has garnered plenty of attention since Kaepernick’s initial decision to protest during the anthem silently.
Marshawn Lynch’s former Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett said he plans to sit for the national anthem for the entire season. His reason being that he wants everybody to get along. “Whether it’s Muslim or Buddhists or Christianity, whatever it is, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we’re in this thing together,” Bennett said. “It’s more about being a human being at this point.”
The leading argument against silently protesting the national anthem is that it is a disrespectful gesture to the men and women who have bravely fought for this country. It’s uncomfortable to most, and understandably so. The American flag is a symbol of freedom. Bennett says he understands that as the son of a military veteran.
“First of all, I want people to understand that I love the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots or oppression. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve. And I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message of that.”
Players like Bennett have an undeniably huge platform. But what he and others must realize is that speaking up can be a double-edged sword. In the National Football League, there is no such thing as job security. Non-guaranteed contracts and fear of negative repercussions lead many players to avoid sharing their opinions. According to Vernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick’s former teammate in San Francisco, “sometimes quiet is better.”
“When it comes to football, you just want to do everything you can to be in compliance, right?” Davis said. “At the end of the day, we’re here to do our job, which is to win games, right? It doesn’t really matter. You could be outspoken if you want, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere. If you want to be outspoken, you should probably get a job as a color commentator. That’s the way I see it. I just try to be in compliance, do my job and stay in my lane.”
Job Security in the NFL
Given the nature of this league, it’s undoubtedly easier for proven players like Lynch and Bennett to be more outspoken figures. This is the NFL we’re talking about, where job security is “not for long.” Anybody willing to stand up — or in this instance kneel — for what they believe in must understand that while they can control their message and how to deliver it, they cannot control how veterans, active duty service members, or the public decides to respond.