Taking a knee in contemporary America

By Jesse Anderson
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 9, 2017
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In the U.S., currently, it's one of the biggest news items out there, and it's also arguably one of the most inconsequential national debates to come up in the country this year: Is it acceptable for a professional athlete (most specifically, football players in the NFL) to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality?

The issue is hugely divisive, with many on the right accusing the players of disrespecting the U.S. and its flag, and many on the left applauding these same players for bringing attention to the country's racial problems and exercising their right to free speech. Predictably, Donald Trump has made his opinion on the matter known, bluntly stating that the "sons of bitches" kneeling during the anthem should be fired – a comment that, in turn, led to a debate within a debate regarding the acceptability of his language.

The history of NFL players taking a knee for the anthem is easy to summarize. It began during last year's NFL preseason, when then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick neglected to stand for the national anthem in (as stated above) protest of police brutality against black Americans. The story began picking up momentum, and other players soon began joining Kaepernick in sitting out the anthem. When the NFL season ended, the issue fell mostly out of the news cycle. But when this year's season started up, it returned – with more and more players (even entire teams) taking a knee – and has been feverishly debated ever since.

This isn't a very complex topic. If you watch two 10-minute segments on any given news channel covering it, you'll pretty much know everything there is to know about it. One of the points constantly reiterated is that sports and politics don't mix, that Americans don't want to sit down on a Sunday afternoon to relax and be reminded of the country's political divisions. (And, indeed, it appears that the NFL's ratings have declined in recent weeks.) Another argument one hears is that the players have every right to protest whatever injustices they might see happening in the U.S. – which is usually countered with the line of reasoning that even if the government has no right to stop them, the owners of their teams do.

This is, essentially, a non-issue. Nothing changes if a professional athlete chooses to sit or chooses to stand for a song, and no one gets harmed. People who claim to be "patriots" or to "love their country" might get offended, but – if they're adults who are fully developed emotionally – they shouldn't be setting so much store by the actions of a millionaire athlete who has no effect on their life or well-being. Football is a sport: The people who play it aren't elected officials, and they represent nothing beyond themselves and their teams. If you don't like what they're doing, ignore them.

But one should also question the athletes' motives. Sure, they want to bring attention to police brutally against minorities, and that's a perfectly reasonable, admirable thing to do. But the controversy that's been caused by their decision to kneel has overshadowed anything to do with the police. Watching what people have to say about the issue on the news, it can be easy to forget how this whole thing even started.

If the athletes really, truly want to do something to make a positive change, there are about a dozen more productive things they could be doing – e.g. making public speeches or appearances, volunteering, donating money. Kneeling for the duration of a two-minute song is facile. They should be backing up their views with something more constructive. If they don't, it's hard to not see them as people who are more concerned with "taking a stand" than catalyzing real change.

For the whole country to be taking something of such little import so seriously is, sadly, not unusual these days in the U.S. America is sharply divided politically, and this issue is just another surrogate battle to be played out between pro- and anti-Trump Americans. What happens vis-à-vis the kneeling NFL players will have no significance beyond what is already an issue of unbelievably narrow scope. One can only hope that Americans will realize how trivial the matter really is.

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