It all started with a small gesture made by a second -string quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in August of 2016. When Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem, no one could have guessed it would garner so much attention and become the next chapter in the conversation about police brutality and racial inequality.
After his protest made headlines, Kaepernick took to his newly found fame with absolute grace as he explained his peaceful protest and its meaning. He believed the criminal justice system in the U.S. needed reform because it unfairly targeted minorities and African Americans specifically.
Despite the message being one of unity and peace, many were outraged by his simple act and this is what brought it to the national stage.
Over the next few weeks, other players began to kneel and after the usual amount of media saturation, the protest was mostly in the past and the players were left to do as they wished when the anthem played. All was said and done, with no lasting effects, until our commander in chief decided to speak up, presumably since there were no policies to undo or countries to offend.
President Donald Trump’s comments were relatively brief, but his suggestion that “the sons of bitches” who exercise their right to protest should be suspended or fired was reprehensible and very much the main focus of the news stories to follow.
After his unnecessary and damaging comments, Trump’s supporters within the NFL began to abandon their allegiance to him and criticized his demeanor and lack of maturity. After Trump made these comments and responded to the ensuing backlash, all eyes were on the games this Sunday to see how the NFL would react.
The response was overwhelming and almost unanimous. The sport that always embodied the stereotypical American spirit — whose main sponsors are the largest beer companies and cable networks in the U.S. — has now become a stage for players to influence and change society in new ways.
There was a message of strength and support amongst teammates and rivals alike. Large portions of the teams that played on Sunday either knelt or locked arms, some doing both and other teams broke league rules entirely by refusing to come out until after the anthem had finished.
The players’ message to the president was that they will not be intimidated out of fighting for what they believe. Some players even wore #StandWithKap and #TakeTheKnee on their undershirts during warmups, showing their respect and appreciation for the first who protested, despite his current free agent status and lack of a team.
Some speculate that Kaepernick’s protest may have contributed to him becoming a free agent and not getting signed, but regardless of his position, his movement only keeps getting stronger.
Players later took to Twitter individually to respond to Trump after the games on Sunday and to voice their displeasure and rebellion. One such player was Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, who was invited to the White House after winning the most recent Super Bowl and conveyed his opinion with a Tweet.
“Ppl said it was disrespectful not going to The White House..I’m sure they are quiet about us being called ‘sons of bitches’,” he wrote.
The Patriots, who are normally uninvolved with the media and politics, were at the forefront of this most recent scandal, as owner Robert Kraft, one of Trump’s older friends in the league, was among the first to denounce his actions and criticize his behavior.
Despite past business ties and established relationships with Trump, the NFL made their response loud and clear by officially disagreeing with and scolding the president for his hurtful and unnecessary comments, and openly encouraging players to exercise their freedom of expression.
Regardless of who you are, the issues being raised by NFL players and the president are nationally relevant. Though this protest has been going on for a while, it is only getting stronger now, thanks to our president’s criticism.