By the end of August 2016, America had seen two consecutive summers of police shootings pasted in the headlines. Names like Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile became commonplace as both opinions and hashtags erupted across social media. Colin Kaepernick would add his name to the list for an entirely different reason.
The NFL launched its preseason with a matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. Prior to the opening kickoff, Kaepernick sat alone on the bench during the performance of the national anthem, which set off a firestorm of controversy. Kaepernick explained his protest saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick’s quiet dissent also came less than two months after the shooting of five white police officers during a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. Tensions were high—and for good reason.
By week one of the 2016 season, eleven other NFL players knelt during the pre-game anthem, a number that continued to fluctuate throughout the remainder of the schedule. The silent protests drew a slew of reactions from both sides of the issue. Some praised Kaepernick for placing racial injustice on such a visible stage while others questioned his commitment to the country and accused him of disrespecting the flag.
Fast forward to 2017. A new NFL season, a new president in the White House. During a speech at a rally in Alabama on September 22, President Trump remarked, “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’?” The following day, he doubled down with numerous tweets reiterating his insistence that protests be made a fireable offense and urging Americans to refrain from watching the games.
Naturally, this drew some attention…
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Illustration Courtesy of Abigail Keenan.