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The cost of speaking out

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NFL

After the president’s remarks, players from 25 NFL teams protested during the national anthem on game day.

“Rocket Man” and “Son of a b*tch” can now be added to the president’s terms of endearment after this week. While the first nickname was in reference to an increasingly threatening dictator, the second name referred to NFL players exercising their freedom of speech.

In a rally in Alabama on Friday, September 22, President Trump took the time to weigh in on professional football players that refuse to stand during the national anthem. The crowd cheered “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” when the president remarked, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now, out. He’s fired.”

I was appalled by the president’s language, but not shocked. He was speaking to his base that overwhelmingly disapproves of Kaepernick’s peaceful protest, but rushes to defend others’ freedom of speech, even if they appear in the form of Klan members and neo-Nazis.

We should be more concerned with the people who chanted “U.S.A” following the president’s statement than we should be by the president. The audience symbolizes the racial prejudice still strong in America. This prejudice allows talented players like Kaepernick to go unsigned, while players who have used racial slurs — such as Richie Incognito and Riley Cooper — continue to play in the NFL. 

A recent trend

The trend among NFL players to refuse to stand during the national anthem began with Colin Kaepernick a little over a year ago. Kaepernick explained it was his way of protesting against police brutality and racism in the U.S.

“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 told NFL reporters. “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.”

Many were outraged by Kaepernick’s decision, believing it was disrespectful to those who served in the armed forces.

Since then, players from several NFL teams, including the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, have shown their solidarity with Kaepernick by either kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” or raising their fists.

The movement is not exclusive to professional football either. Bruce Maxwell from Major League Baseball, the entire Indiana Fever team from the Women’s National Basketball Association and Megan Rapinoe from  the U.S. national soccer team all showed their support for Kaepernick by taking a knee during the national anthem.

The aftermath

We are two weeks into the NFL season and Kaepernick remains unsigned. Kaepernick could have stayed on with the 49ers, but decided to become a free agent at the end of last season to have the chance to sign onto another team.

There are several other more qualified quarterbacks in the NFL, but Kaepernick outranks many quarterbacks that have been signed entering the 2017 season. In the 2016 season, Kaepernick had a higher NFL Quarter Back Ranking than starting quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Carson Wentz and Eli Manning.

Teams like the New York Jets and Chicago Bears would benefit from a quarterback like Kaepernick, as both teams have had trouble finding a suitable QB. The Bears signed Mike Glennon this year who, on multiple occasions, has shown that he might be good enough to start.

Either of these teams could have signed Kaepernick, but the controversy surrounding his protest made NFL teams reluctant.

Amidst the hesitation among NFL team owners, we also have a president insisting that players who follow Kaepernick’s lead should be fired. It is upsetting that the president and his constituents are more concerned with players exercising their right to protest than they are with players who have actually committed crimes.

In the history of the NFL, there have been 98 players charged with domestic violence and 74 charged with assault. Often times, these players continue to play in the league despite their criminal records.

A matter of freedoms

During his speech, the president did mention that NFL players do enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else.

“And I know we have freedoms...but you know what it’s still totally disrespectful,” Trump said.

Kaepernick has clarified on multiple occasions that his intent was never to disrespect military veterans or people currently in the armed forces. Following the outrage over Kaepernick’s decision, veterans took to Twitter to show their support for the football player. The hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick began trending on Twitter.

Brandon Keating, a U.S. Navy veteran, tweeted, “I'd never try to shame someone with ‘patriotism’ in order to silence their 1st amend Right. #VeteransForKaepernick.”

So when the president claims that NFL players refusing to stand during the national anthem is “disrespectful,” I have to wonder who he thinks they are disrespecting.

The president also felt that because NFL players make millions of dollars they are not entitled to protest during the national anthem.

“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,” the president remarked.

However, the fact that Kaepernick makes millions of dollars is part of what makes his protest so impactful. Kaepernick continues to remain defiant in spite of the money he risks losing, conveying how steadfast he is in his beliefs 

As a high-profile athlete, Kaepernick has a national audience and a voice that can reach Americans and influence policy makers, as the president has demonstrated.

Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem is not his response to his personal experiences of racial discrimination, but rather his response to incidences across the country. He protests on behalf of those whose voices cannot be heard.

By speaking out against police brutality and racism in America, Kaepernick put his career on the line – an action that should be triumphed and not condemned.