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Supporting the NFL Player Protests

By: Quinn Donovan

Last year, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked national conversation by taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequalities and police brutality; however, it seemed that the protest was initially ineffective since only a handful of players joined the protest.

However, President Donald Trump’s comments at a rally in Alabama a couple of weeks ago quickly changed that narrative, as he proclaimed that the protests are “a total disrespect for everything we stand for.” As for the players that protest, Trump went on to say that owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”

Many NFL players, coaches, and owners were taken aback by the President’s words. Suddenly, teams felt the need to unite together and stand up against the attack on the NFL. Players, executives, and owners around the league felt targeted by Trump’s remarks, opening up actions to a further response.

Last Sunday, NFL teams responded in a big way: A total of 204 players ultimately kneeled during the anthem, up from just four a week ago. Some teams chose to instead lock arms in unity while other teams were split between players locking arms or kneeling. A number of team owners also joined their respective teams on the sideline in a show of solidarity. Notably, three teams remained inside their locker rooms for the anthem: the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and Seattle Seahawks.

The Steelers situation gained further attention as one player, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, was seen standing by himself outside the tunnel for the anthem while his team remained inside. Villanueva–a former Army Ranger who served multiple tours in Afghanistan– later apologized and said he unintentionally separated himself from the team.

Many people have responded to the protests by saying that kneeling during the anthem demonstrates a lack of respect to those who have served and/or given their lives to protect the American flag and nation.

As the only current NFL player with a military background, Villanueva has a unique perspective to the ordeal. When questioned personally, he said “people die for that flag… When I see a flag on the mission on the shoulder of a soldier, that reminds me that the guy’s with me… That’s what the flag means to me, that’s what the flag means to a lot of veterans.”

Although, Villanueva described how his fellow NFL players all come from different backgrounds and that he doesn’t have the right to tell people what to do. “I’ve learned that I don’t know what it’s like to be from Dade County, I don’t know what it’s like to be from Oakland… I can’t tell you I know what my teammates have gone through, so I’m not going to pretend like I have the righteous sort of voice to tell you that you should stand up for the national anthem,” he added.

As Villanueva stated, it is vitally important that we respect the decisions of players around the league and even in other sports as well. Just as Villanueva spent time on the battlefields of Afghanistan protecting our country, many other players have spent their entire lives trying to live through racism that simply hasn’t gone away. Everyone hails from a different background and therefore will make different decisions regarding how they would like to stand up for these issues, if at all.

It is difficult to expect the NFL to work out all the issues and come to one decision about how to enact change. However, if the league is able bond and become united through this time, it surely has the ability to put forth a solid example and demonstrate the power of unity in our country.

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