For the last year or so, many football teams (and other national sports teams) have started to kneel during the national anthem. It is to show solidarity with the many black people who have dealt with racism and police brutality. Many believe it is because there are hundreds of people who don’t care about the military members that fight for their right to be free. Is this freedom of speech provided by our government? Or is it hate speech against military members like many people are inclined to believe?
The act of kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner hasn’t been as prominent at the collegiate level. This might possibly be due to the fact that the NFL is publicized much more than our own Yellowjackets. The NFL requires that both teams are on the field during the national anthem, but this has only been in practice since 2009. Before then, the players would stay in their locker rooms. Two exceptions were during the Super Bowl and the games on the Sunday that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The anthem was played, but it wasn’t as important and prevalent as the rest of America believes it to be.
The real question is, “do you stand up during the national anthem when you’re watching the game in your living room?”
As someone who knows many people who have served in our military and are currently serving at home or overseas, it’s hard to imagine that this many people – these kneeling football players, specifically – don’t respect the risk that our military personnel face day-in and day-out to make sure that we can live freely at home and have the right to exist in freedom. While I know there are probably a lot of people who are against war and violence – I would say this is really any sane person – there is a big difference in hating the idea of war and hating the people who fight for Americans to keep their freedom of speech, press, and the right to pursue happiness.
When the Yellowjacket home game a few weekends ago was broadcasted on ESPN 3, there wasn’t a single kneel in sight. There’s no pressure in Southern Iowa to think of the kneel as a protest against police brutality. The people here are generally white, Christian, and hardworking middle-class people. Some of us have family members overseas. Some of us have been through the flag folding at a funeral. We’re simple people – homey and helpful.
But I don’t think that gives us the right to ignore the problems that other people are facing.
Graceland has a very diverse community for being only 4 miles North of the Iowa-Missouri border. The public Graceland website notes that we are comprised of students from 40 states and 21 countries, and I’d like to think that’s pretty exceptional for a small liberal arts college in the American Midwest. Since we’re so diverse and people that go to Graceland come from all different types of communities, I think it’s important to try and understand both sides.
Kaepernick originally sat down on the bench during the national anthem and then moved to a kneel after talking to veterans and seeing how they reacted. They told him that kneeling was just as respectful because we kneel in prayer and kneel when honoring a family with the folded flag during military funerals. So why is this an option?
I asked some Graceland students about how they would feel if students at our football games knelt during the national anthem:
“I don’t stand for police brutality and racism, but I definitely stand for the troops and the people that fought for my rights” – Jayne Welch, class of 2020
“I would fully and wholeheartedly support their right to do so. That said, I personally don’t agree with doing it during the anthem. I don’t like the kneeling, but it’s peaceful and it’s their right. I think it’s a hell of a lot more peaceful than some of the rioting I’ve seen covered” – Maceson Spencer, class of 2018
“I believe the players would need to believe in why they are kneeling in order to kneel and not just do it for attention or publicity” – Shayna Elliot, class of 2019
I think a lot of Graceland students are okay with the idea of kneeling as long as people are doing it for the right reason, but it’s also hard because not standing is so intricately tied in with the idea of disrespect. I doubt that Graceland will be a college that starts to kneel because we’re centered in a smaller community that might not get the political statement that it’s making, but I do think that most of our students acknowledge police brutality and racism for what it is. Whether or not they show that with kneeling or not is another story, but I don’t believe that by standing they are refusing to acknowledge that racism exists.
So why are colleges less impacted by #TakeAKnee protests? Perhaps it’s because many college campuses are towns in their own right. We exist easily and without having to always look at the outside world. Graceland students experience a variety of different classes that focus on community building and compassion thanks to our new general education program, but there’s still opportunity to ignore these teachings and not grow further in our understanding of the political climate we are in.
Police brutality exists.
Is it appropriate to demonstrate our hatred for those things in the middle of honoring the country that serves us? I think so, but we’ve all been raised differently. I think if we’re willing to listen to each other there’s a lot that we can accomplish even in small-town Iowa where we might not feel our voice makes a difference. The question is now, “are we going to communicate? Or are we going to dwell in anger about this until another political statement shows itself?”