Colin Kaepernick started protesting police brutality and the inequality that people of color in the United States face in August of 2016. He did so by initially sitting for the national anthem and then altering his demonstration to take a knee.
Kaepernick, who is still a free agent, has faced backlash in the year and change since then. However, when President Donald Trump said that NFL owners need to fire the “sons of bitches” who are “disrespecting the flag,” it ignited more protests.
So what are players protesting when kneeling for the national anthem?
Players are protesting the injustices people of color still face in America today. Eric Reid, who protested with Kaepernick during 2016 (and still is in 2017), wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that explained why they took a knee:
We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
The message that the players are trying to send has been misconstrued. Some have said that the players are attempting to disrespect the country, national anthem, flag, and military by taking a knee — that is incorrect. Part of the confusion came from initial misunderstanding, and it grew when Trump spoke at his rally in Alabama.
The players are simply protesting systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality, and the criminal justice system. The national anthem is just the vehicle for the protest.