National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell issued a 1 minute and 21 second apology on 5 June 2020, following several years of debate within the NFL as well as among fans, Donald Trump and countless pundits who criticized Colin Kaepernick and other players’ silent protests against police brutality.
Mr. Goodell’s message came nearly two weeks after the police killing of George Floyd, whose Memorial Day death and the killings of other black Americans have galvanized global protests against police violence and racism.
But in the commissioner’s message, Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against black Americans by taking a knee during the national anthem — was notably absent.
“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong,” the commissioner said. “We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. … The protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening.”
A wave of players in the NFL and in other sports followed Kaepernick’s example, morphing into a direct resistance against the president after he condemned it. The NFL responded by announcing that teams would be fined if their players continued to do so.
But the move to take a knee during the national anthem before kick-off — or stand with arms locked in silent protest — follows in a long tradition of sports stars standing up for human rights, despite pressure from fans and public figures telling athletes to “stick to sports”.
USA National Patriotic Standards
In the USA, there are three important and revered national cornerstones: The U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Flag (aka Old Glory, Stars and Stripes), and the National Anthem (aka Star Spangled Banner).
All civilian elected and/or appointed members of the government (including the USA President) and all military members are required to take an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That oath remains in effect forever.
As a retired military member, I have been affected by all three cornerstones. As a Navy Midshipman at the University of Texas in Austin, I was regularly assigned to raise the U.S. Flag (and the Texas Flag) in front of the Main Building at 0800. For my entire Naval career, we flew the U.S. Flag from all the ships, both at sea and in port, and from all the bases where I was stationed. At US/Joint Bases in Japan we fly both nation’s flags and play both nation’s national anthems.
It is not so common these days to verbally pledge allegiance to the U.S. Flag. It is clearly optional. It has become fashionable for athletes to “take a knee” when the National Anthem is being played, as a protest to existing racial prejudice in the USA. “Taking a knee” is fine; it is exercising the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Free Speech).
[First Amendment to the USA Constitution]
- The First Amendment text reads:
- “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”