COLUMN: National anthem protests by NFL players are, in fact, patriotic

I’ve been wrestling with this idea for a column for a little while now, hesitant, knowing most of our readership will rant and rave about my stance on this topic.

However, the purpose of a newspaper column is to promote a healthy, constructive dialogue — whether political or nonpolitical — by shedding light on topics that can sometimes be controversial or emotional. By shying away from these topics, readers get left in their own little echo chambers where their views remain unchallenged.

So here it is, the case I present to you all today: NFL players’ refusals to stand during the national anthem in protest of heightened racial tensions in this country are justified and should be welcomed to bring awareness to the issue.

Before you throw away the sports section in disgust, please consider this: The United States of America was founded on protests. By using their right to peacefully protest the racial discrimination that has recently see a new rise in this country, NFL players are patriotically exercising their First Amendment rights.

American colonists protested the unjust taxes imposed by Great Britain in numerous ways, including the Boston Tea Party — an event in which Mohawk-disguised colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor in protest of the Tea Act of 1773. This is one of the most significant protests in American history, acting as a catalyst to the American Revolutionary War that led to our independence from Britain.

Without protests, there would be no United States of America. Plain and simple.

If NFL players don’t use their platform to protest the unjust treatment of African-Americans in this country, nothing changes and the oppressed continue to be oppressed.

Earlier this week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was challenged by an Arizona Cardinals season ticket-holder to bring disciplinary action against players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

In a move that surprised many — including myself — Goodell responded with an open-minded look at the situation.

“It’s one of those things where I think we have to understand that there are people that have different viewpoints,” Goodell said Monday during a 45-minute question-and-answer period with Cardinals season ticket-holders. “The national anthem is a special moment to me. … But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights and we want to respect those.”

Goodell has been a lightning rod of criticism for numerous reasons during his tenure as commissioner, but his willingness to consider the players’ viewpoint deserves some respect, even if you don’t agree with him.

Bruce Olson, the season ticket-holder who asked Goodell to bring the hammer down on players who protest, presented a tone-deaf response to the commissioner’s stance on the issue in claiming he “beat around the bush,” according to remarks made to the Associated Press.

“The thing is, all [Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch] has to do is stand up for two minutes and he can still have whatever beliefs he wants; go with what looks good for the game and to the people,” Olson told the AP. “[Goodell] makes the rules and, ‘You do this, you do that,’ why can’t he just say ‘You stand up. You can believe what you want or do what you want. Just stand up like a man.'”

Even though I respect Olson’s opinion, I feel as though he missed the entire point. The fact that they’re protesting means they’re trying to bring awareness to this issue; they’re not refusing to stand for their own selfish reasons or personal attention.

In fact, I will go as far to say it’s actually childish to not acknowledge the players’ right to protest the national anthem due to the high racial tension plaguing this country. As white Americans, we don’t have any way of knowing what African-Americans go through in this country and we have no right to pretend like we do.

African-Americans were blasted with water hoses, attacked by dogs, threatened and even killed because of their peaceful protests during the Civil Rights Movement. To know that an entire group of people had to endure such horrible treatment — and is still a big target of hate in this country — is disheartening, to say the least.

These national anthem protests have not come without consequences, too — although not as severe as what African-Americans had to endure during the Civil Rights protests.

Last year, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem in protest of the numerous cases of excessive police brutality against African-Americans. Regardless of his somewhat-lackluster performance on the field last year, Kaepernick has not been able to sign with a team even as a backup quarterback because owners have blackballed him due to the “drama” surrounding his protests.

Even as a die-hard, lifelong Seattle Seahawks fan who once disliked Kaepernick more than any other player in the league, I personally believe he should have been signed months ago and the fact that he hasn’t is somewhat criminal.

Kaepernick made the decision to protest and now pays the price for it. Now that numerous other players have decided to follow his lead — Lynch, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald — during the 2017 preseason, Kaepernick will hopefully find a new landing spot.

“Of course, I’m going to face backlash,” Bennett said to the AP after sitting during the national anthem prior to the Seahawks’ preseason game last weekend. “This is bigger than me. This is bigger than football. This is bigger than anything we have. This is about people. This is about bringing opportunities to people, giving people equality. This is bigger than a sport.”

It goes without saying that the national anthem is special to everyone in this country, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. But a message needs to be sent that enough is enough and these protests are doing just that.

If you’ve read this whole column and still disagree with me, that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and that’s truly something that should be celebrated in the United States of America.

It’s healthy to consider other viewpoints of issues — especially if they don’t coincide with your own — and have respect for those who disagree with you so long as hatred and bigotry are not involved.

Agree to disagree, it won’t hurt anyone.

Jake Calhoun is a full-time sports reporter for The Journal. He can be reached at jcalhoun@nujournal.com

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