Because many of the weekend games will have no fans or a limited number of spectators in both college and NFL stadiums across the country, we won’t know the full impact of the public’s reaction to players who choose to kneel during the National Anthem. TV ratings will offer a glimpse.
In the wake of recent events and social unrest that’s gripping this country, it’s more than likely the number of players taking a knee at the game’s most patriotic moment will grow. I’ve read, mostly on social media, that many fans plan to boycott those games where players kneel as a form of protest against social injustices stemming from systemic racism.
No longer will it be just Colin Kaepernick and a smattering of other players kneeling in protest. There will be more. Most will be African Americans, but there will be White players, too, kneeling for the injustices on behalf of their teammates.
Ideally, I prefer sports remain a diversion to life’s more serious subjects. I watch ballgames to forget about the worries in the world, at least for a few hours. No way do I want sports to turn political. At times, however, it’s unavoidable.
Despite my preference for sports to stay clear of political and cultural controversy, it never bothered me when Kaepernick took a knee. Players, like anybody else regardless of occupation, have a right to express their opinions on social issues. If a professional player wants to use their sport as a platform to raise awareness to injustices, more power to them.
Muhammad Ali is my favorite athlete and/or sports figure of all time. Yes, he was a great boxer, but he stood for something much bigger than boxing. Although I was only a youngster when Ali refused to be inducted into military service, I still remember the issue. At first, I was ashamed of Ali for avoiding the draft. Heck, even Elvis paused his meteoric rise to serve Uncle Sam.
But Ali didn’t run to Canada or secure a doctor’s note for bone spurs in his feet to dodge military service in Vietnam. He publicly cited his objections, which coincide with many of the same racial issues today.
Ali could have been jailed, but he wasn’t. However, he had to forfeit his heavyweight championship and was denied the opportunity to box while in the prime of his life. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually sided with Ali and he returned to boxing en route to recapturing the heavyweight title and at a time when the sport was as competitive as it was brutal.
Yeah, you might say, I admire Ali for much more than his prowess in the ring.
If you don’t think Kaepernick has paid a price for his kneeling, you haven’t been paying attention. He’s as good an NFL quarterback as many on present-day rosters. Kap is as good as a few currently starting in the NFL. Instead, he’s unemployed.
True, his asking price might be too high. But most teams have avoided signing Kap to a contract as a way to avoid the backlash from fans — simple as that. Or, they don’t want his pursuit of social justice to distract from the business of football.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has since said the NFL has been on the wrong side of this issue. He as much as said the NFL has wronged Kap.
Fans have as much a right to boycott watching or attending games as Kap and others have to kneel in protest. If there’s any blessing in the pandemic forcing stadiums to be empty or at limited capacity, it presents an opportunity for healing. Hopefully, critics of those kneeling will grow to understand why Black players are protesting.
Because we enjoy the liberties afforded by our democracy, protesting is as a guaranteed right as it is a privilege to stand for the National Anthem. Kneeling before the flag is no different an honor than standing for Old Glory.
It’s imperative for the future of this country for all Americans to come down on the right side of this issue.