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A+flag+is+unfurled+on+an+NFL+field+before+start+of+play.
A flag is unfurled on an NFL field before start of play.

A flag is unfurled on an NFL field before start of play.

Photo by Creative Commons

Photo by Creative Commons

A flag is unfurled on an NFL field before start of play.

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You have heard it once and you will hear it again: there is nothing more American than baseball. Why is this the case though? Where did this idea stem from exactly? All of it traces back not to the actual sport- but, back to the players wearing the uniforms. Whether it was the 1950s or the modern era, athletes have always been looked at by others as heroes, inspirations, and role-models. This idea has spread far beyond its original roots; however, now prevalent in the major sports leagues of the NBA, NFL, and NHL; not only do we all know this, yet so do the players. So with all this in mind, we now look at a man who has made himself out to be one of the most controversial athletes at the moment; whether you love him or hate him, you sure do know about him: Colin Kaepernick.

It all started in August of 2016, Kaepernick made the decision to take a knee during a pre-season game in San Diego and ever since then it seems everyone who has heard about it has had their own opinions: some say he has every right to sit, others that he should stand and show his patriotism. All that is certain is that in this moment, it seemed to become impossible for politics and sports to once more become separate entities, and while many acquiesce to this, others vehemently disagree. The fallacy is though that this is a brand new concept, that this has never been so apparent before; yet, this issue can be traced back decades ago to Jackie Robinson and JFK.

Around the time of the Civil Rights Movement- the 1950s and 60s- Robinson became an avid follower of the equality for all stance and in his new found role he became very disheartened with JFK’s original perspective on the validity of the activism. With the pressure mounting from Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the followers they had garnered, Kennedy finally made it clear that “we face a moral crisis as a country and as a people.” While the situation is not the same as the one we now face, the sentiments expressed are: athletes have a voice and a following that they want to use to make a stand. Moreover, some athletes such as the great Muhammad Ali went as far as to protest an entire war during a time typically known for unity and camaraderie.

While the situation is not the same as the one we now face, the sentiments expressed are: athletes have a voice and a following that they want to use to make a stand.”

While Jackie Robinson fought the Civil Rights Movement on the home-front, Ali, who was drafted and served to enter the Vietnam War, outright refused and made his stance based on the current conditions and hypocrisy that existed in America. To Ali, he felt disgusted at the idea that he was being forced to go half-way across the world to kill and brutalize others in the name of a nation that has shown his people little-to-no respect since the day they had arrived: The New Yorker even uncovered a powerful quote from Ali himself saying “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” The criticism was two-fold: while many journalists and sportswriters publicly defaced him for what he had done, others tried to show their support by standing by Ali in Cleveland, after he was sentenced to five years in prison for his refusal. Notwithstanding, the power and press Ali knew he would arouse led him to taking his own views and expressing them to the public in hopes of making a change; it is not a question of if he was justified or not, but that it was his decision to speak out as an athlete with a following to a system he felt strongly against.

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It is not always about race, however, as Billie Jean King, a retired woman tennis player, demonstrated in her “Battle of the Sexes.” In the midst of the Women’s Rights Movement, as King and other female athletes alike attempted to gain respect and equality to that of men’s pro sports, an opportunity presented itself to finally prove that what they were fighting for was a legitimate case: former tennis world champion Bobby Riggs, a male, put out a statement claiming that even at 55- years of age he still could best any female tennis player as they simply were inferior. King, seeing her chance, challenged Riggs to an exhibition game for the whole world to see. It was there, at the Houston Astrodome, that King defeated Riggs on nationally televised airwaves in only three-sets. The point is, that athletes do not simply need to make headlines outside of their respective sport, but can also use it to their advantage to make just as rigorous a statement with their actions- not just their words.

That leads us to where we are currently, with Donald Trump blasting the NFL for the increased amount of players following Kaepernick’s lead as he now demands the league take action. Not holding back, Trump took to Twitter saying “if a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” The backlash he received made no difference, continually denouncing the league and claiming “if NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag and Country, you will see change take place.”

As a result of this, players and owners from the NBA and NFL took it upon themselves to express what they believed as well: most notably, Stephen Curry of the champion Golden State Warriors expressed hesitancy with visiting the White House where Trump then proceeded to rescind the invite saying it should be “considered a great honor for a championship team to visit the White House.” Immediately, Lebron James unabashedly went at Trump saying it “was a great honor until you showed up;” yet, what he followed up with was the quote that stuck with many in the middle of this controversy: “It’s not about dividing. We as American people need to come together even stronger.” Following in his footsteps was the NFL and the owners themselves not afraid to let their own voices be heard on the subject essentially agreeing with that of Lebron James. Quoted from NFL Commissioner  Roger Goodell, he spoke with Fox News saying “comments like we heard last night from the President are inappropriate, offensive and divisive.” From players to owners, many in the sports world share similar agreement in that what Trump has said publicly is out of line and unprofessional.

The point is not if you agree with the President or not, the message here is that athletes and sports have become bigger than what it was originally intended to be. As one of the biggest sources for attention, the grandest stages for people to all come together to cheer and applaud, the players are not afraid to use the spotlight for more serious and grave topics such as standing for the National Anthem. The way this plays out is anyone’s guess- but the ripple effect it will have on sports and its fans will be felt for a lifetime.

Photo by Creative Commons

Lebron James became involved in the debate over taking a knee this past weekend.

 

 

 

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