Kneeling NFL players: The protests march on

As protests continue throughout the NFL, debates keep pouring in on news and talk radio about whether these protests disrespect the country or the soldiers that died defending the nation. The controversy started with Colin Kaepernick trying to bring awareness to injustices against black men and women. Kaepernick initially started his protest by sitting during the national anthem. He began to kneel after a conversation with Nate Boyer, former U.S. Army Green Beret and NFL long kick snapper. Boyer suggested Kaepernick kneel instead of sit. Why kneel? Simply because during a military funeral, the flag is taken off the casket and folded thirteen times, then presented to the surviving family members by a fellow service member while kneeling. Kaepernick decided that kneeling during the national anthem would help to show his respect for the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice, while still bringing awareness to his cause. It was some in the media and those on the right that have blown Kaepernick’s kneeling out of proportion.

Let’s get one thing straight. This is not the first time that athletes have protested during a sporting event. Look back to the 1968 Olympics, when U.S. track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during their medal ceremony. While many have dubbed this a Black Power salute, Smith stated in his autobiography that it was a “human rights salute.” The two men were showing solidarity with the civil rights activists of the ’60s.

There is nothing illegal about the protests of NFL athletes. They are explicitly protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If the NFL tries to curb these protests by insisting that athletes stand, more than likely the NFL Players Union will take the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army and someone that deployed twice to Iraq, I personally would never kneel during the national anthem. However, I wholeheartedly feel that these athletes have every right to protest the injustices that they see in any peaceful way. I still take my oath of enlistment seriously. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I would consider anyone that tries to curb these athletes’ First Amendment rights to protest as a domestic enemy of the Constitution.

I’ll take it one step further. These athletes have a moral obligation to protest injustice. Many grew up in places where similar injustices occurred. They used their athletic ability to escape these areas and have the power to draw attention to these injustices. To honor the ideals of this nation, we must come together and acknowledge that these protests are not anti-police, anti-flag or anti-soldier. Instead they are an effort by the athletes to change the U.S. for the better.

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AJ is an opinion columnist for The Lorian.

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