Colin Kaepernick helped the San Francisco 49ers reach the NFC Championship game in 2013 during his first full season as their starting quarterback. He also guided the team in 2012 after starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994. Over the next three years, he would lose and win back his starting position.
What most people know Kaepernick for today is his decision to sit during the playing of the national anthem before the beginning pf the game. He did this during the third preseason game of 2016 for the first time, and then began kneeling as a protest against what he feels is systematic oppression and racial injustice that occurs in the United States.
His actions resulted in a larger protest movement that intensified a year later when President Donald Trump suggested that NFL owners should “terminate” employees who refused to stand. Other players, including U.S. Women’s Soccer star Megan Rapinoe, have joined in on the protest since then as well.
Many people have passionate views on whether the decision to kneel or refuse to stand during the national anthem is appropriate. Here is a look at a few of the critical points from each side.
List of the Pros of Not Standing for the National Anthem
1. Standing is a traditional that dates back to 1891 in the United States.
Americans didn’t always stand for the national anthem. It slowly became a tradition in the late 1800s thanks to a ceremony at West Point where the cadets would stand when the song was played. You might say that their actions went viral through word-of-mouth, which led others to start standing when the anthem would play – even though it wasn’t officially the Star-Spangled Banner until 1931. Most Americans treated “God Save Saxony” as the national anthem until then, which was lifted from the song “God Save the King” – the British national anthem.
2. Standing for the national anthem is a way to honor those who fought and died.
Over 1.2 million Americans have died while fighting for their country throughout the history of the United States. Many people make the decision to stand during the national anthem because of people like William Williams, who had part of his leg blown off fighting for what he loved while his status was classified as a runaway slave. The perspective from this key point is that the action of standing is a way to reflect on those who no longer have the ability to do so.
“I believe every American, when the national anthem is played, should cover their hearts and think about all the men and women who have been maimed and killed,” said former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. “Every American should stand and think for three lousy minutes.”
3. Standing during the national anthem is a way to focus on what unites Americans.
Americans like to identify themselves based on the state where they live, which is a tradition that goes back to the colonial days. You are a New Yorker, a Texan, and so forth. What unites all of the states together is a union which puts the benefits of being together, celebrating our diversity, to become strong. Whether it is at a professional sports event, a public gathering, or a high school football game, the action of standing is a symbolic way to show that each person wants to do their best for their country.
It is an action that is free of religion, race, or which team someone decides to cheer for once the game starts. The political differences found in the United States don’t even apply during this time. It is a salute to what makes the U.S. one of the greatest countries on the planet.
4. Standing is also a tribute to the idea of democracy.
Although some people may not agree with the action of standing or pledging to the American flag for religious reasons – and many would say that God should come first – the act of rising to one’s feet is to honor the idea that as of 2019, there have been 45 presidents that served their country. It is an act which recognizes that the U.S. system of government, divided into 50 unique states, is still united under the federal system.
Americans do not (and probably will never have) a monarchy, a dictatorship, or any other form of government because there is such a love of having elected officials represent them in their local legislature and in Washington, DC.
5. Standing for the national anthem is a salute to the idea of justice.
When one looks at the Stars and Stripes, the colors of the flag have a specific meaning. White represents the innocence and purity of those who found to create the country in the first place. Blue is a representation of their perseverance and vigilance because there was a desire to find justice. Red then represents their valor and steadfast nature.
The idea that patriotism is about taking pride in the past is one that is inaccurate. Those who stand for the flag are doing so because they want to represent the principles found in the colors of the banner that waves. It is to honor the concept that people can change the country and the world – people like Martin Luther King, Jr.
6. Standing during the national anthem sets an example for the next generation.
The act of standing is a representation of love. It is not a decision that is made because everyone else is doing it. Patriotism is passed along from one generation to the next like any other talent or skill. When people stand when the national anthem plays, they are doing so because it is a representation of the hopes that the next generation has to make the world a better place. There are specific moral truths to live out in this passion, including justice, courage, and perseverance.
Parents stand for the anthem and flag because they want their children to stand up for what they believe in what it becomes their time to lead.
List of the Cons of Not Standing for the National Anthem
1. Kneeling or refusing to stand brings attention to injustice.
Even though people stand to represent justice in America, there are minority groups in the country which do not have the same access to peace and prosperity. Kneeling or deciding not to stand for the national anthem is a way to bring more attention to the people who get none in their community, in the press, or even in the criminal justice system.
The same people who stand for justice when the Star-Spangled Banner plays are ready to discriminate against others because of their lifestyle, religious beliefs, or even the color of their skin. If everyone is an American, then shouldn’t each person receive fair and equal treatment?
2. Kneeling is done to honor those who have served the country.
When Kaepernick first started his protests, he decided to sit on the bench next to the Gatorade containers without really saying much. Then he transitioned to the kneeling aspect of his actions because doing so was more respectful to military veterans and their families than remaining seated. Despite the heavy levels of criticism that were levied toward the players who refused to stand or locked arms with one another, the point that everyone was trying to make was getting some traction.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppressed black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said after his first protest. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
3. Kneeling or not standing up during the national anthem rarely happens at home.
This key point is one that also drives the debate for or against kneeling or deciding not to stand. Although there are people who say that the stand when the national anthem plays on TV when they are home, most individuals do not. “I only do it at sporting events out of social obligation,” said one commenter on Reddit. “I love American, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with the Bruins playing the Stars.”
Standing is a point of etiquette more than a social norm. That means the protest of kneeling or not standing is more a violation of what people think of as a “normal” action, so their response is one that takes the issue personally instead of looking at the actions of someone else.
4. Kneeling or refusing to stand shines a light on inconsistent law enforcement policies.
The reality of police brutality in the United States is something that is polarizing and contentious, but it still exists. There have been repeated videos showing law enforcement officers killing unarmed black men. In Freeport, IL, an African-American was arrested on suspicion of stealing hospital equipment because he was walking around outside with the IV attached because security guards reported that he was trying to leave with it.
If you are a person of color or fall outside of what is the typical gender spectrum in the United States, then you are a minority. That means when people stand for the flag, for their own reasons, they are securing their sense of patriotism with others. Kneeling does the same for those who feel like that patriotism is more like a form of oppression.
5. Kneeling or refusing to stand was rebranded by the White House to be something it is not.
After coming into office, President Trump and the White House repeatedly attempted to tell the American public that those who were protesting were doing it as a protest of the flag instead of against racism and policy brutality in the United States. Some people criticized Kaepernick and others about bring politics into sports instead of just focusing on their job. The reality of life as an American citizen is that people can be political. They can be spiritual. They can also choose to avoid those things.
Many people feel like football, and sports in general, is somehow sacrosanct. The idea that you abandon who you are to become a gladiator for the amusement of others is a perspective that puts Americans closer to Romans – and we all know how that empire turned out.
6. Kneeling or refusing to stand for the national anthem is also a tradition.
Athletes from the United States have often used their stage as a way to make an impact on the politics of the day. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a black power salute during the 1968 Olympic Games from the podium – an action that expelled them from the rest of the games and triggered death threats. Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the war in Vietnam, serving jail time because a country that treated African-Americans as “subhuman” felt like they were good enough to die for another cause.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and other NBA players joined with the Black Lives Matter movement after Eric Garner was asphyxiated to death by Daniel Pantaleo for illegally selling cigarettes. An out-of-court settlement was eventually reached where the city of New York paid $5.9 million to Garner’s family.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Kneeling or Not Standing During the National Anthem
There really is no authoritative conclusion to find when reviewing these key points. The average person will either agree with one set of them or the other. What we must do is work to find places of common ground.
The one place where everyone can find some agreement is in the need for justice. Both sides stand, sit, or kneel because they want a fair outcome. Each person wants the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness with their life in the United States. By listening to what each side has to say, it is easier to find solutions.
What does not help the situation is divisive language. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a b- off the field right now, out – he’s fired,” said President Trump during a campaign rally before the election. He then suggested that the owner who would take that action would become the most popular person in the country.
The pros and cons of kneeling or not standing during the national anthem can help each person find where they stand. Then they can support those who are kneeling or not standing because they can see their point of view with more clarity – or vice-versa.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.