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Kneeling athletes are not disrespecting the country

Views 74 | Time to read: 4 minutes | Uploaded: 10 - 4 - 2017 | By: Will Walker

Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to express his anger at the “total disrespect certain players show to our country.” His comments were in reference to the growing trend characterized by professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem prior to their games in order to draw attention to various social justice issues. Trump’s comments reignited a simmering debate regarding the players’ behavior.
In the context of this article, I will deal only with the practice of kneeling during the national anthem (as this is currently the most prevalent act of protest in sports), and I will relegate the conflicting opinions on this matter into two categories: either you are of the mind that this behavior is offensive, or you are not (whether that entails support or indifference). I am in the latter of these camps, and I will posit four points in an effort to convince you to join me.
To someone who shares Trump’s opinion that these athletes are disrespecting the country, I give my first point: “America” is nothing to be revered. Maybe you admire America’s historical actions as a whole (though I doubt any country would deserve this), or maybe you support some course of action it is undertaking currently, or maybe you approve of some aspect of America’s culture, but a nation itself is not to be revered. America is as good or bad as its actions, and America’s actions are defined by people who are considered to be American, whether this takes the form of a citizen casting a vote (or joining a street protest) or a president signing an executive order. In light of this observation, it should not be a problem if a group of Americans voices criticism of some aspect of America. Those Americans have every right to do so; they are America.
The country is usually the first thing that people see as being disrespected by this athletic activism. But there is a second thing that is never far behind, and this is what I will address with my second point. People tend to interpret unorthodox behavior during the national anthem as disrespectful to those who fought and died for the freedom of the country. Taking into account the fact that not all of our wars have been fought for our national freedom, I have a response to this as well. Why does a person fight for freedom? It is because this soldier sees freedom as more just than servitude. A soldier who willingly dies for his or her country does so while pursuing justice. So, to a person who is concerned that this justice-seeking soldier is being disrespected by the behavior in question, I argue that an American citizen leveraging what platform he or she has in the hopes of rectifying some perceived social wrong in America is fighting for that same ideal: a more just country.
My third point regards the athletes’ medium of protest. Kneeling has historically been a sign of respect, so what is it about this specific context that suddenly makes it disrespectful? There is nothing inherently “disrespectful” about kneeling during the national anthem. In fact, it seems as if this practice is exactly what its perpetrators intended for it to be: a decidedly respectful and frankly harmless way to call attention to issues that these players deem important.
So, though these athletes have every right to be “disrespectful” if they want to be, their actions are not, in fact, disrespectful. I have one final point, and to make it I wish only to pose a question. What sense does it make to play the national anthem at a sporting event in the first place?


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