Taking a knee during the national anthem has become one of the most divisive topics in the country. Particularly when members of NFL teams began to follow in the wake of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initially refused to stand during the national anthem as a silent protest against racial inequality. It's become so polarizing, in fact, that President Trump even alluded to taking a knee during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. But did his not-so-subtle admonishment make a difference? Will players take a knee at the Super Bowl LIII this weekend?
Ever since Kaepernick would not stand during the national anthem in 2016, other players have followed suit. The football player was protesting a history of police brutality against minority cultures, and his first few protests went largely unnoticed. He chose to sit on the bench as the anthem played during a preseason game in 2016, but his silent protest gained momentum when he made the decision to actively take a knee publicly. Other players began to follow suit, either taking a knee or linking their arms in protest during the anthem. This movement did not sit well with many fans, who believed this refusal to stand for the national anthem was disrespectful to the country.
Regardless of the backlash, Kaepernick stood by his decision not to stand, and explained the meaning of his protest in a press conference:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave, and getting away with murder.
Interestingly enough, it wasn't until President Trump spoke out against Kaepernick during a press conference in Alabama that the battle lines were well and truly drawn between those who supported the peaceful protest and those who saw it as hugely disrepectful. The president said in September, according to The Independent:
Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired. You know, some owner is going to do that. He's going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he's fired.' And that owner, they don't know it [but] they'll be the most popular person in this country.
After Trump's outburst, the Associated Press reported that roughly 200 players decided to take a knee in solidarity, and in protest.
In fact, more than a dozen players for the New England Patriots took a knee and locked arms in solidarity; even Patriots quarterback Tom Brady locked arms with fellow player Phillip Dorset. As far as the Patriots Super Bowl opponents go, the entire Philadelphia Eagles team, including chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, locked arms in protest during the national anthem before a game against the New York Giants. Which could speak volumes about their potential protest at this weekend's Super Bowl.
As Super Bowl Sunday looms large, Super Bowl LIII producer Fred Gaudelli noted that, whatever decision the players make regarding the national anthem, the coverage of any sort of protest will be live.
The Super Bowl is a live event, just like 'Sunday Night Football.’ When you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what's happening. So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live. I would say, probably since Thanksgiving, a lot of that has kind of dissipated and died down. It’s certainly possible it could happen again.
While players for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots have yet to say whether they plan to kneel for the national anthem during live coverage at the Super Bowl, many critics are already planning to boycott the game completely. Ticket sales have reportedly dropped this past football season, and some people are wondering if this is a direct result of the protests.
Perhaps the real question is whether the players feel that police brutality and discrimination still exists. And whether they believe using their powerful platform to highlight the issue will make any difference.
We will have to wait until Sunday to find out.
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