Colin Kaepernick’s protest has emphasized the debate on freedom of expression
Colin Kaepernick, an American football quarterback, took the country by storm after kneeling during the anthem at a National Football League (NFL) game in September 2016. His reasons for doing so weren’t out of spite or insult, but rather to protest against the continued violence and injustice towards people of colour in the United States.
Kaepernick’s form of protest spread as other athletes followed his example, even branching off into other sports, such as basketball. Unfortunately, not everyone approved of this type of protest. U.S. President Donald Trump, for one, reacted harshly, calling a player who kneels during the anthem a “son of a bitch,” according to The Guardian. Furthermore, Trump said athletes who kneel or show any “disrespect” to the national anthem should be fired, according to CNN. His words sparked protest and shock throughout the sports world. Across the different leagues in America, athletes voiced their contempt towards President Trump. Notable examples include the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Lebron James, who spoke out against Trump, calling him a “bum” on Twitter.
In light of Trump’s comments, the Golden State Warriors basketball team refused an invitation from the president to visit the White House. Even football player Tom Brady, a close friend of Trump’s, sided against him, calling his words “divisive,” according to CNN.
President Trump has twisted a protest against racism into a matter of disrespecting the very essence of American pride. This isn’t the first time Trump has been insensitive towards issues of race, as demonstrated by his poor handling of the events during the Charlottesville riot. Yet with all his claims of others disrespecting the flag, according to the Washington Post, on Oct. 12, Trump made a joke during a bugle call, which is a military tradition that consists of raising the flag to show respect.
Although Trump claims Kaepernick’s protest is an instance of disrespect towards the American flag, it is bringing up the topic of the right to freedom of expression. When Kaepernick knelt in protest, he didn’t intend to ridicule the sport or the NFL, nor did he want to insult the symbolic or literal importance of the American flag. He wanted to bring awareness to a critical issue dividing Americans. He was protesting against issues of racial violence and police brutality—acts that are happening in America.
Mike Evans, a wide receiver for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, responded to Trump’s actions, saying in an interview with CTV News: “You know people say it’s unpatriotic, but it’s unpatriotic of the president to disrespect our rights.”
White House officials claimed they stood by Trump’s statement, and that it is always appropriate for the head of the nation to defend the flag. I was shocked when I heard the president justify his words by claiming he was protecting the American flag. I was surprised considering the flag was not the focus of the national anthem protests. What is under fire here are people’s constitutional rights.
As Kyries Hebert, a linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes, explained during an interview with CTV, whether it’s fighting for their country or fighting for a cause, people do not fight just to protect a flag. Although it’s an important symbol for any country or cause, people fight to defend and respect the constitution as well as the people it protects.
American athletes are not alone in protesting during the anthem. They’re being joined by their fellow athletes in the Canadian Football League, including players for the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Kaepernick’s and other athletes’ acts of protest have brought attention to a critical issue in America. Despite Trump’s comments, athletes in the United States, and even Canada, haven’t backed down. If anything, the actions to date have served only to reinforce the players’ resolve and unite them on issues of racial injustice and constitutional rights.
Regardless of race or nationality, we are all human. So long as we do not inflict harm on others, we each have the right to say our own piece. However, in today’s society, our words may no longer be enough. If anything, our actions have more power than ever before. As Kaepernick and many others have shown, we must use our actions responsibly—there is no telling how much of an impact they can have in a world where words may no longer be enough.
Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth