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Why NFL's players are 'Taking a Knee'

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“This is what lynchings look like in 2016! Another murder in the streets because the color of a man's skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us. When will they be held accountable? or did he fear for his life as he executed this man?”

On the 6th July 2016, the then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick posted this caption alongside a video of the horrific killing of African-American, Alton Sterling at the hands of a police officer.

A month later Kaepernick was seen sitting down during the national anthem in the 49ers third pre-season game of 2016.

He explained in a post-match interview, “"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

And since that defining moment, the movement, known as “taking a knee,” has expanded across teams, sports and even professions.

At Wembley, last month around 25 players from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens kneeled to show their support against Police brutality towards ethnic minorities. Furthermore, players, coaches and even the Jaguars’ owner Shahid Khan linked arms as they stood during the national anthem, to show unity across the sport.

This came just two days after US president Donald Trump launched a sensational attack on the protesting NFL players at a rally in Alabama.

He told a crowd of loyal supporters, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

Ultimately, in a country where citizens ‘pledge allegiance to their flag’ opinions towards this subject are avidly divided.

A USA Today survey published on October 2nd found that 42% of those asked believed it was inappropriate for NFL players to “take a knee” while 51% thought it was appropriate and 7% were unsure.

And these opinions are incredibly partisan. Eight out of ten Democrats support the players' protests whilst eight out of ten Republicans describe it as disrespectful.

The issue continues to do the rounds on social media, being the latest litmus test of Trump’s presidency. Conservatives praise Trump's frankness and candidness yet opposers see the subject as further proof of deep-rooted racism amongst Trump’s followers.

The teams, however, remain united in support of the movement. New England Patriots’ players locked arms in their most recent fixture and owner Robert Kraft, who had contributed $1 million to the Trump campaign, spoke out against the President saying he was "deeply disappointed by the tone" of his comments.

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, another Trump contributor, also came out in support of his players. "We will continue to support our players' freedom to peacefully express themselves and the meaningful efforts they make to bring about positive change in our country."

Taking a knee is now a majorly divisive topic expanding beyond the US to an international matter. Most recently, Hertha Berlin's players and officials "took a knee" to show their support for tolerance and responsibility, before their 2-0 loss against Schalke on Saturday.

In one corner is what the protest stands for, bringing awareness to the racial inequality and oppression within American society. This is represented by the world of sport and generally supported by those in favour of free speech.

In the other corner is the American flag. A flag which is patriotically flown by millions of Americans outside their homes, shops and government buildings. It represents such a diverse range of ideals to such a diverse range of people.

Some attribute it to freedom and liberty, others the American dream. A significant majority denote the flag to represent the military veterans of the US armed forces. To dishonour the flag, many believe, would be to disrespect the 22 million veterans which make up 7.3% of the US’s population.    

2 in 3 Americans watch Football every week and each will have an opinion towards the movement. The one certainty is that it is hard to see an ending to the protests, a government-enforced ban on those players who do “take a knee” would be unconstitutional, and an apology from Trump seems unlikely.

Colin Kaepernick first sat out of the national anthem more than 13 months ago to draw attention to the oppression of ethnic minorities in America. Since that time, black males aged 15-34 in the US are still nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed at the hands of the police.

If the US government wants to bring a stop to the protests so desperately, it should first focus on lowering such a damning statistic. Until such time, sport will continue to take a knee.

Image above shows Colin Kaepernick, one of the stars in support of the 'Take a Knee' campaign.

Image Credit - Flickr Commons, Football Schedule. Wikipedia Commons.

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