Colin Kaepernick kneeling at a football game during the anthem. courtesy of complex.com

Michael Zagaris

Sports are an Acceptable Political Platform

For about one year now, the NFL and nation have been plagued by one question: should players use games to make political statements or protests?

The debate has especially become heated around whether these players should protest by not standing during the national anthem.

The protests many NFL players are taking part in was started in the 2016 season by then quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, who sat and kneeled during the national anthem to not, “Show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” His protests were launched in an attempt to help change systemic racism and police brutality in the United States.

The protests have spread throughout the NFL, with players from almost every team participating, including many Broncos players such as Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, and Brandon Marshall.

Kaepernick, under the First Amendment, is fully justified in his protest. It is within his rights to express his opinions. His protests are not harmful to others, obscene, defamatory, direct threats, or government secrets, the only forms of free speech that are not covered by the first amendment.

However, many people, including President Trump, have complained that this protest is wrong on several levels. They see his actions as direct disrespect to both the flag and the armed services. Many others believe that professional sports, or really any type of athletics, are the incorrect platform for politics. Still others complain that, as a multimillionaire, Kaepernick, as well as other NFL players have no right to complain about unjust treatment. After all, aren’t they all successful in this country?

The argument that players are disrespecting the flag has a few key problems. For one, Americans are not required to stand for the national anthem at any point, unless they are a part of the military. In fact the NFL only began requiring players to be on the field during the national anthem in 2009, thought they were only off the field previously during prime time games due to broadcasting time restraints. In many ways, the singing of the national anthem at sports matches is already a political statement. Why do privately owned and operated sports leagues have any nationalistic shows of loyalty and patriotism? Not every American loves their country, and not everyone supports the military. Thus, the incorporation of the national anthem into these private events is already forcing a political ideology on everyone in the stands. While Kaepernick’s protest is political, it is arguably a reaction to an already political action during the game.

In addition, Kaepernick and others have decided to kneel rather than sit during the anthem in order to convey their respect. Kaepernick even consulted former NFL player and Navy Seal Nate Boyer. Kaepernick’s former teammate Eric Reid commented that, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture.”

As for athletics being the incorrect platform for politics, that may be a bit true. Professional sports are meant to be focused on the game and skillset of the athletes, teams, and coaches. They also serve as a way to unite the country rather than divide it. If we follow that logic, maybe actors should also cease to be politically active. Maybe any and all public entertainers (and that is what in many ways, professional athletes are) should keep themselves from expressing the political views and using their fame to spread a message. That may make it easier to watch shows and movies and may bring people closer to one another, but it is also grossly unrealistic. When given a public platform and a wide audience, many people will try to spread their ideas. By trying to control this, we would be unrealistically limiting the voices of athletes. Limiting their free speech in this way is unjust to them as citizens of this country and unilaterally doing so could also result in other actual concerns of theirs being ignored. If this protest is stopped, protests over concussions and other issues plaguing these players may be suppressed.

This protest is also hardly distracting from the game. It takes place before kickoff and only lasts a few minutes at the most. It’s nearly impossible to correlate such a small segment of time and a player’s poor performance. A wide receiver won’t miss the ball just because he is taking part in a protest. It’s his job to catch the ball. An accountant won’t suddenly forget all of their training if they take part in a protest, so why would a professional athlete suddenly lose their skills by kneeling during the anthem?

Finally, these players have been labeled as out of touch, especially since many of them are wealthy and seemingly unaffected by the pervasive systemic racism in the United States. However, they still had to grow up in this country, encountering all of the racist obstacles thrown at them. For every player, there are thousands still languishing who never could catch that break. They are some of the only prominent public figures who have a large audience and an opportunity to express themselves and are also African American. It is true that a poor person will more likely be encountering racism every day, but they lack a proper platform for protest.

It all ties back to a greater problem in this country. Deep systemic racism has caused an inequality even in protest. This country has made it exceedingly difficult for African Americans to have a strong public platform, and when they do and use that platform, they are labelled as divisive and unpatriotic. These protests are important and about a major problem in our country, and silencing them not only violates the First Amendment, but also continues to perpetuate the problem of silencing minority protest in this country.

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    Politics and Sports Do Not Mix

    Politics and sports have clashed together in recent news, as the biggest story revolves around the continued protests by NFL players and coaches by taking a knee during the National Anthem before their game. Many fans are praising the protests, while others believe that it’s disrespectful and has no place in professional sports. Personally, I am a believer in the latter.

    Now folks, don’t get me wrong, I believe in the right to protest, and I believe that it is everyone’s given right as a U.S. citizen to point out flaws that they see in the country. However, I think that professional sports is not the type of platform to be having these protests.

    The benefits of a professional sports game is to entertain the fans. It’s the job of the players to perform well and bring their best work to the playing field to provide said entertainment. It is generally understood that professional athletes are to come to their arena focused and ready to win the game. With these protests arising, the importance of focusing on the game and visualizing success is being blocked by a reporter begging for an answer to a question about whether or not said player will stand or sit for a every-game singing of the national anthem.

    Professional athletes have every right to express how they feel about politics, for there is no rule in sports that says they can’t do so. However, if these expressions distract players from the job that they have on the field, they need to be eliminated from the player’s mind for the time being, for it would cause too big of a distraction for the player. I believe that every professional sports coach would agree with me. In fact, John Tortorella, head coach of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets and former head coach of Team USA’s World Cup of Hockey team stated in an interview in 2016 with ESPN that, “Any player who sits on the bench for the anthem will sit there for the rest of the game.” I believe that this is the attitude that every coach and staff member of a professional sports franchise should act towards players not focusing on the task they have at hand.

    Even in youth sports, the idea of being focused for a game is emphasized as a crucial piece of preparation. I mean, if I were to walk into my locker room worried about the test score I got on my English final rather than focusing on the game, I would be scolded and told to focus on the game instead, because realistically, it is the task at hand that I should be worrying about the most. Professional coaches don’t seem to get that idea, and I believe this could be extremely hazardous to the world of sports and specific franchises who partake in these types of actions. For example, I know that I wouldn’t want to see the Broncos become too distracted by the anthem protests to not perform well against a team like the Buffalo Bills… oh wait…

    Overall, I am a strong supporter in peaceful protests, and I really do think that they have huge impacts on the world when done properly. But when it enters the world of sports and becomes a distraction to the athletes performing, it needs to come to a stop and take on a different platform. I would hate to see my favorite sports team struggle because they were too focused on their political beliefs to actually show up and perform for their game. Therefore, I believe that politics and sports should sway away from each other for the best interests of fans, players, and professional sports franchises themselves.

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