By Dan O’Malley
In the past year, there has been controversy regarding the recent NFL protests during the National Anthem. The San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick started the protests last season, when he began sitting during the National Anthem and then later started kneeling. Players on other teams started following Kaepernick’s example by also kneeling.
Kaepernick said he started kneeling to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Some people applauded the protests and were happy that the protests were bringing to light issues such as police brutality social injustice. Others said that the protests were disrespectful to the flag and disrespectful to those who have served and died in the military.
The protests gained more national attention this year when President Donald Trump called the protesters “sons of bitches.” Some people applauded Trump for his comments, while others harshly criticized. Over 200 NFL players then partook in some sort of protest theweek following Trump’s comments, which was far more than the number of players who protested the previous week. Some people thought that the National Anthem protests would also carry over into other sports leagues and sports at the college level.
When it comes to the NFL protests being discussed and acted upon around the country, Juniata is certainly no exception. During Juniata’s homecoming weekend, there were initially rumors that some members of the Juniata football team would kneel or be involved in some sort of protest during the National Anthem; however every football player stood for the anthem.
There has also been controversy on campus after a student recently wrote the “N word” on a white board in Brumbaugh Academic Center. Some students felt that the Juniata administration didn’t do enough to address the issue. Additionally, despite the fact that the football players remained standing, some students organized a rally to kneel during the National Anthem at the game. The protesters wore all black and held signs supporting Black Lives Matter.
An anonymous protester said he believed the protests “were necessary and a good thing for the school and community.” He believed the protests symbolized a “rejection of indoor racism and racism not acknowledged by a majority of Americans, particularly white Americans.” “There is not enough attention on the plights of minorities,” he said. He then mentioned that the protests were about racial justice that may not be there on an individual level, but is there on a structural level.
“We want to fight for social injustice against America. We are protesting the violence against people of color. What Colin Kaepernick has been kneeling for has not been harming anyone. We are here to stand in solidarity with him,” an anonymous organizer of the protests said.
An anonymous football player said that the rumors that the team would be kneeling during the anthem were false and there were never any plans for any sort of demonstration. He said that the team generally feels that a team member has the right to kneel. No football players knelt during the anthem; however, no football player was prohibited from kneeling if he chose to do so.
Before the game, the team held hands and knelt prior to the anthem being played. However, the anonymous football player said that this was a tradition and “had nothing to do with the flag.” He also mentioned that he had mixed feelings about the protest. He said that he did not agree with the students who protested during the game. “I think it was for their own attention,” he said. “I think it’s disrespectful in terms of people who died for the flag; however, it is the protesters’ right to do so.”
However, he did say that he supported some aspects of the protests. “I support using it as a protest against police brutality, as I do know some people affected by it, but I think protesting against Trump is dumb.”
Professor Emil Nagengast, a politics professor at Juniata, said the protests have become a statement against Trump. “Colin Kaepernick was protesting against police brutality and other aspects of society that are unfair against African Americans. Trump, in his typical childish way, turned it into a statement of ‘are you for or against Trump?’ If Trump had shut up, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. He intentionally fanned the flames out of a controversy that would have faded away,” Nagengast said.
“It is important to show people like Trump and other white nationalists that the United States is different than Nazi Germany. The U.S. is about individuality and not about punishing people who dare to speak their own mind. The flag stands for respecting individualism, but it has turned into standing in unison because of Trump,” Nagengast said.
Nagengast also stated that he believes Americans’ dislike of Kaepernick shows the hypocrisy of many Americans. “We say we are for freedom of speech when it’s something we agree with. However, the average American doesn’t like it if it is a black man, and that has been the American way,” Nagengast said.
For many people, Kaepernick has become a powerful symbol. “Kaepernick has become a symbol for people that say they have had enough of white nationalism. If it had not been for Trump, this would have faded away. He hit a nerve among many players and people in the United States,” Nagengast said.
When asked his thoughts on those who thought the protests were disrespectful, Nagengast said, “I would say you don’t understand what the flag represents.”
Many people have different interpretations of what the flag means and the different feelings people have towards it. Nagengast said that the best way to solve this is to have a discussion about it. “It is clear that the United States needs to have a discussion about what the flag represents and how America differs from fascist countries.”