At the start of the 2016 NFL Preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the National Anthem, as the rest of the players as well as stadium attendees stood, hand on heart. After receiving criticism for this tactic, Kaepernick and fellow 49er Eric Reid began kneeling. When asked for an explanation, Kaepernick explained to NFL Media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” The NFL followed with a statement clarifying that players are not required to stand, and that this is a matter of individual rights.
While Kaepernick’s response to the outrage his kneeling caused seems reasonable in 2020, it was not taken as such at the time. 2016 was the last season Kaepernick was signed to an NFL team. The reasoning behind that has been disputed, but curiously Donald Trump stated in 2017 that he was responsible for the former QB’s lack of employment. In 2018, Nike announced Kaepernick would be part of their anniversary campaign which resulted in a national boycott of the brand. Cut to present day: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell commented in June 2020, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Goodell is not alone in his apparent flip flop in acceptance and even support for kneeling as protest. This year, NBA, MLB, and NWSL teams kneeled during the National Anthem without much in the way of fallout. Players, most notably in the NBA, have utilized interview time to call for justice for victims of police brutality, namely Breonna Taylor. While Trump has no more understanding now than in 2016, most of the country seems to have accepted the notion. When fans saw that NHL players were not kneeling for the anthem, #kneel4hockey began trending on Twitter, accompanied by fan photos of themselves kneeling and encouraging the league to do as much or more.
This shift in acceptance no doubt stems from the Black Lives Matter activity of this year. Protests of police violence continue around the country, and as they are met with more police violence, shifts in perspective are no doubt happening. This is not to say that all of America agree with the protests; a recent CBS survey stated that 58% of Americans think kneeling is an acceptable means of protest. The same poll in 2018 showed only 36% thought it acceptable. It has been four years since Kaepernick first took a knee. With the NFL season quickly approaching, time will tell whether this trend will persist.
- Know Your Rights Camp is a youth program created by Colin Kaepernick in the wake of his activist status: www.knowyourrightscamp.com
- Black Lives Matter organizes protests and resources for the causes discussed in this article, including civil rights and justice from police brutality: www.blacklivesmatter.com