“I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” I want you to think about this quotation. Who said it? Colin Kaepernick? Malcolm Butler? I’ll reveal its author at the end of this article. For now, I mention it because as the NFL moves to ban kneeling during the National Anthem, it’s only a matter of time until this issue reaches other professional sports.
Let’s recap how the issue started. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the National Anthem to protest racial injustice towards black Americans. With stories in the news about black men being targeted by the police, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny the idea that America still has a major problem with race. The bigger problem is that Americans don’t want to recognize that it is a problem. They say things like “If they just did what they were told they wouldn’t have gotten shot,” or “They’re racist too!” The problem with statements like this is that it doesn’t address the root of the problem (plus they’re not true). It also completely ignores Kaepernick’s motive for kneeling. In fact, I’m willing to bet you most people don’t even know why he knelt to begin with. They see a black man who they think doesn’t appreciate what he has when the reality is he just wants other African Americans to have the same opportunity he had. That’s not selfish. That’s heroic.
NLF Moves to Ban Kneeling, But for the Wrong Reasons
It’s clear that the NFL is struggling with declining viewership. For example, according to Sports Illustrated, NBC averaged only 18.2 million viewers in 2017, its lowest figure since 2008. Experts cite the kneeling controversy with the NFL’s declining viewership. Meanwhile, baseball is enjoying better ratings thanks to exciting World Series games. So for now the issue of kneeling in baseball isn’t an issue. But how long can other professional sports avoid this issue?
The NFL moves to ban kneeling during a time of deep divide in America. That divide is based on nationalism and willful ignorance. This is not to say that you can’t condemn someone who doesn’t stand for the National Anthem. But the way Kaepernick’s critics are denouncing him doesn’t reflect a solid rationale. Looking at those who strongly condemn people like Kaepernick, including President Trump, it’s clear they’re more focused on upholding blind patriotism instead of the freedom of expression. Deviating from their view of American patriotism scares them. Instead of trying to engage in a meaningful discussion about the issue, they revert to threats and insults. It’s easier to scream “Get out of America!” instead of trying to see things from their point of view. This notion contradicts the values of the Constitution. It also widens the political divide in America.
But who would want to live in a country where you’re forced to stand for the National Anthem? Doesn’t that contradict the very principles written in the Constitution? As Jason Kander said, “Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to [stand for the Anthem].”
Kneeling Is Not a Problem in the MLB (Yet)
Last season the Oakland A’s Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the National Anthem before beating the Texas Rangers 1-0. Like Kaepernick, Maxwell was strongly criticized for the move. As of today, Maxwell is the only player in Major League Baseball who has chosen to kneel during the National Anthem.
It would be ridiculous for the MLB to ban kneeling during the Anthem. First of all, it’s not a problem in baseball (yet). Secondly, if it became an issue, banning kneeling would give birth to a whole other set of problems that the MLB doesn’t want to have to face. Perhaps on a larger level, the MLB understands how it would contradict their past efforts towards inclusion. As the NFL moves to ban kneeling, baseball can’t quite use the same rationale as football, and it’s not because of declining viewership.
Baseball can’t effectively ban kneeling. It would be a blatant contradiction of the kind of diversity they’ve been promoting since Jackie Robinson broke the color line. Forbidding baseball players from kneeling would erase any credibility that the MLB is trying to build through promoting diversity in baseball.
MLB teams are privately owned and technically reserve the right to direct their players’ behavior on the field. President Trump’s involvement though might jeopardize this ban since it involves government interaction. Regardless, instead of forcing players to stand, perhaps they should be allowed to stand trial in the court of public opinion.
NFL Moves to Ban a Practice Inconsistent with Baseball Values
Jackie Robinson wrote the words in the first paragraph in his autobiography in 1972. In the twenty-five years between his debut and his death, Robinson felt that America hadn’t made much progress towards improving race relations. Kaepernick wasn’t the first athlete to protest the Anthem, and he won’t be the last. If we condemn the practice of kneeling during the Anthem, then we should cancel Jackie Robinson Day too. We might as well un-retire the number 42 throughout American ballparks because the same principle used to condemn kneeling is the same principle once used to bar blacks from baseball in the sense that such a ban exposes the fear ignorant people have of those who are different from them.
*Yawkey Way Report firmly believes in the First Amendment. We do not, nor will we, censor our writers. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions Yawkey Way Report, its CEO, staff, publishers or advertisers.