The Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars. All of these football teams chose to take a knee on Sunday, Sept. 24 after President Trump had tweeted that players who take a knee during the National Anthem should be fired.
President Trump was likely referring to Colin Kaepernik who first took a knee during the National Anthem last season in protest of police violence and racism.
“There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernik said to NFL Media.
Though many teams are getting recognized for the number of players who are kneeling, some teams are responding to the tweets in other ways. The Greenbay Packers chose to stand and link arms, as a symbol of the unity of the football community. Meanwhile, other teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to wait in the locker rooms during the National Anthem to relieve players of the pressure to respond to the situation. A similar routine has been adopted here at Maryville College as well. Though last season players were present on the field during the national anthem, this season they have been staying in the locker rooms.
Chris Cannon, Maryville College athletic director, explains that Maryville College tradition has been to stay in the locker room for “final preparations” before the game. But Tavon Johnson, who last year was inspired by Kaepernik’s protest to lead a small group of Maryville College football players in protest during the national Anthem, is skeptical as to why the football players wait in the locker rooms during the national anthem.
“It’s not really final preparations,” Johnson said. “We just sit in there and cool down. They might talk to us here and there, but there’s nothing really to prepare for. We’re already warmed up and ready to go for the game.”
Furthermore, Johnson said he feels that by waiting in the locker rooms during the National Anthem he is prohibited from protesting something that is important to him.
“I want people to know what I’m protesting and how I feel about it,” Johnson said. “It’s really hard to protest now as a football player because we’re never there anymore.”
Though he can no longer protest on the football field, Johnson continues to protest outside of his sport – for example, he also refuses to stand for the National Anthem during Maryville College basketball games when he is in the stands.
President Trump’s tweets sparked a nationwide controversy over whether kneeling during the National Anthem is a sign of disrespect or an acceptable form of protest. What started out as just a protest of police brutality and racism, is now mixed in with Trump’s words.
“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,” Trump tweeted as reported in USA Today on Sept. 23. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
However, to people like Johnson, though it may not be “American” for protests to be welcomed, it is certainly democratic to protest injustice.
Johnson explained that while protesting, they were accused by some people of disrespecting those in the United States Military.
“It has nothing to do with the troops,” he said. “This has nothing to do with them. This has to do with America as a whole.”
To football players like Johnson, the stadium is viewed as a public space in which they have a right to exercise free speech.