Collin Bryant | Sports Writer
It was difficult to turn on any sports television station this week and not be met with the same question: “What was your reaction to President Donald Trump’s comments on players of the NFL kneeling to the national anthem?”
This issue began last Friday at a campaign for incumbent Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, where President Trump said it would be nice for people to see NFL players get fired for disrespecting America’s flag.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” President Trump said during his speech in Alabama.
President Trump has escalated this issue to the point where it would appear some players are joining together out of spite. Not to mention, former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who President Trump originally targeted in his comments, knelt during the 2016 season to protest police brutality. Kaepernick, in the beginning of his call to action, sat for the anthem. Met by the dismay of several members of the military, Kaepernick worked with Navy Seal Nate Boyer to find a respectful middle ground in kneeling, because nowhere in the United States Flag code does it say it is disrespectful to kneel.
However, the United States Code does state in Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(c), “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” Every Sunday, the flag is carried as such to fit the field appropriately for aesthetics. The code also mentions that “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.” Yet, flags can be found on beer cans and shirts everyday, and no one complains about that.
This week, the president has made more statements about his concerns of players and coaches kneeling on Sunday than the healthcare bill he swore he would “repeal and replace” when he came into office over eight months ago.
The players are at fault because, while the call to unity is fantastic, the players felt they needed to join together only after the president made his comments. Their actions didn’t come together in such solidarity when Kaepernick started the stance over a year ago. The player’s actions can be framed as a stand against the president himself, and not fully for the unity they are trying to embody.
Though the players may truly be linking arms and kneeling for the sake of unity within the country, they have broadened and taken away the specificity for the protest to begin with.
Kaepernick was originally kneeling to draw attention to the issue of police brutality and equality throughout the country. While this falls under the category of unity, the recent reason for kneeling changes the scope of the issue.
On Sunday, the NFL’s pre-game rituals looked different than usual, with almost every team taking some stance against President Trump’s words in solidarity and unison. Teams such as the Tennessee Titans, the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers (except left tackle Alejandro Villanueva) went so far to not come to the field for the National Anthem at all; many other teams simply took a kneeling position during the anthem. Villanueva, a former Army ranger, stood in front and away from his team while America’s song was being played.
Villanueva later apologized in a press conference on Monday for his actions, saying he felt embarrassed for the fact he participated by himself.
“Every single time I see that picture of me, standing by myself, I feel embarrassed,” Villanueva said. “Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus unintentionally.”
Coincidentally, on Monday, Villanueva’s NFL jersey became the highest-selling NFL jersey in the league.
Throughout Sunday, the president continued to tweet and more and more players began kneeling. This protest has been met with very strong, opposing viewpoints across the board. It has unsurprisingly separated citizens on an issue that has flaws on both sides.
Yes, unity is something this country should always strive to achieve. However, by only joining together now, for the broad scope of unity, the NFL has implied dealing specifically with police brutality is too big a burden. In other words, no one in the NFL has a problem with someone trying to achieve unity, but when someone says they look to fix police brutality the issue becomes to touchy.
Two weeks of all this controversy, Kaepernick is still jobless, the players are still going to lace it up on Sunday and the president will most likely continue with his remarks. No party in this issue is 100 percent correct. A group of people have decided to protest for something that is not technically against any rule. These same people are protesting a real issue that should be looking to be achieved. Therefore, if they are not bothering any rule set in place, then why can’t it be allowed?