Why I Stand

A football player’s perspective on kneeling for the national anthem.

The varsity football team stands for the national anthem at the homecoming game.

Annie Smuts

The varsity football team stands for the national anthem at the homecoming game.

Jack Stromberg, Cartoonist, Staff Writer

Last year, controversy erupted when Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before football games as a form of protest. Kaepernick said he knelt because he was unhappy with the way people of color were being treated in America and would not stand for the flag of a country that oppressed them. Following his lead, several other NFL players began to kneel as well, and this protest reached the college and high school levels as well.

When I first heard about this, I saw it as disrespectful. I had been taught to stand for the anthem, seeing as it was in honor of fallen US military (my grandmother lost a brother, my would-be great uncle, in Vietnam). However, I never understood the controversies behind it. Athletes, or anyone for that matter, shouldn’t be forced to stand if they don’t feel inclined to do so. If they want to kneel, let them kneel.
As of the start of the 2017 season, Kaepernick is no longer playing for an NFL team, yet the kneeling hasn’t gone away and neither has the controversy. President Donald Trump addressed the situation, attacking NFL players who don’t stand for the anthem, even going so far as to say they should be fired. Vice President Mike Pence additionally made his opinion on the issue known, walking out of an Indianapolis Colts game when he saw players kneeling. In response, the NFL announced that they will still not require players to stand for the anthem.

The movement that began in the NFL has inspired high school athletes to do the same. On Sept. 29 before a game against Royal Oak, Ferndale’s entire football team took a knee on the sidelines during the national anthem. According to Ferndale’s administration, the school supports the rights of their students to peacefully protest for their beliefs.

Even our own football team has been affected by all of this. Before an away game against Groves on Sept. 28, both teams were escorted out of the stadium after warm-ups. The marching band proceeded to perform the anthem in the absence of the two teams, who were allowed back into the stadium after the conclusion of the anthem. That night’s game was in honor of US military and law enforcement, many of whom were attending the game, and administrators wanted to avoid conflict.

As a player on the team, I can say we were a little confused when we were ushered out of the stadium. The marching band had just shown up, and for us, that’s normally a signal to line up on the sideline. Instead, we walked to the gate and out onto the practice field. For me, it was strange hearing the anthem off in the distance instead of up close.

Over time, I’ve realized the importance of having the choice to stand or to kneel. No player is kneeling because they want to disrespect fallen soldiers, and they have reasons for the choices they make. I stand for my uncle, but I respect those who kneel too.