To Kneel or Stand — Poly Students Chime in On National Anthem Protest

Oct. 21, 2016 / By

Modified Photo via Flickr and WMCurrent

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem has sparked controversy all over the United States, prompting some to join him, and many others to condemn.

I asked student athletes attending one of the U.S.’s most recognized sports schools, Long Beach Polytechnic High, to share their perspectives on Kaepernick’s decision to kneel on one knee during the national anthem in protest against the U.S.’s unjust treatment of people of color. To my surprise, a couple of them were reluctant to interview in fear of athletic scholarships being taken away if their names were attached to such a controversial subject.

Their hesitancy is understandable, though disappointing.

I know it is not easy putting your hard work and earned success on the line, but I also know it’s way harder to ignore your people’s struggle for the sake of personal success.

An attack against one is an attack against all, and I hope that as these diverse athletes mature they begin to  recognize the adversity they and others face, and that they hopefully take a stance for justice, realizing when you fight for the rights of others you’re fighting for your rights as well.

When I asked four athletes if they considered themselves patriotic, the poll was split 50-50, but not for the reasons we hear most frequently in the media. Their answers were key to understanding their views and identity as Americans.

“Yes,” 16-year-old Lan Nguyen, a cross country runner of Vietnamese descent answered. “I owe it to this country and my upbringing in this country for the opportunity to go to school, to be a strong, opinionated young woman, and to have been surrounded by people of all races and beliefs allowing me to grow up with an open mind.”

As passionate and specific as her response was, others were a little confusing.

“No, because sometimes I forget I live in America … and take it for granted,” said Shankarrav Vamanrav, a 17-year-old varsity volleyball player.

So, if you remembered then would you be proud? I asked. “Yes,” he declared without hesitation, leaving me with a minor headache.

My next question, What does the national anthem and American flag symbolize to you? brought some very interesting perspectives that made me feel, well frankly, ignorant for not previously considering.

“Well,” senior track and field runner Jaquie Moran started, “for me and my family, they served as a reminder of hope and the oppression of government that my family escaped back in El Salvador.”

Just like that, I was reminded that patriotism doesn’t always stem from the stereotypical-conservative-southerner persona I narrow-mindedly was clinging to. Many people risked their lives fleeing other countries for the opportunity and freedom offered in the United States, an experience I can neither fathom nor relate to. Considering this, it is completely understandable why some people are patriotic.

I also asked if the athletes felt Kaepernick’s kneeling was an appropriate form of protest. I found some of the students to either be strongly for or against, but more ambivalent than anything.

“I don’t disagree but then I don’t agree at the same time,” an anonymous 17-year-old varsity football player commented, adding, “I’m not the judge.”

Once again, Nguyen held to a firm stance, arguing that “to say he shouldn’t be able to protest is absolutely ridiculous and backwards,” given that “any form of non-violent protest is a fundamental right of every woman and man in America.”

Vamanrav expressed an opposing view.

“He has the power of media … and if he’s in that position he should respect that he’s here [in the U.S.], … and respect the flag and the anthem,” he said. “Even if you don’t believe in it. You know what I’m saying?” he asked, wondering if I shared his views.

Not quite.

Vamanrav’s argument lacked an essential piece: reasoning. Why should he respect it, I questioned him, Why should anyone respect the flag?

His answer was simple: “Because it’s what brings us all together.”

Maybe for some, but definitely not all. Personally, while I am aware that the United States is among the best countries to live in, I don’t believe these promised freedoms excuse the injustice still happening in this nation.

I believe that using these rights as means to compensate for the wrongs is like applauding a fish for swimming. Inequality and human rights are not a ‘tit-for-tat’ trade off.  All people should have the rights provided to them in the U.S., and more. We should not reward a nation for being just, because that is the way it should be.

Colin Kaepernick has a right to free speech and to protest, just as everyone else does. The very people opposed to his protest argue that he should be grateful to live in America and have these privileges, all the while condemning him for exercising these said rights.

It’s hypocritical and illogical to say the least.

People arguing that he should “just respect the flag” rarely can pinpoint exactly why he owes so much “respect” to a piece of fabric and song. Their tiring rhetoric at times resembles extreme nationalist views throughout history that did more harm than good.

Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem is more than a protest: it’s a cry for help. People of color are suffering, facing police brutality, discrimination, profiling, and are being covered by a cloak of invisibility.

People are tired of not being heard and their issues being deflected.

When the majority of people and those in power aren’t going to give certain issues attention willingly, people are forced to make them look, which is why protest exists.

I support Kaepernick completely and admire anyone, from the other famous athletes who joined him to student athletes kneeling across the U.S., who risk their hard work and success for justice.

*Please note my views as well as those of the student athletes interviewed do not represent all of the student body’s views.

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Nia Thompson

Nia is a 17-year-old student who aspires to express her thoughts through all forms of writing and creative outlets. She has a slight obsession with chocolate, slam poems, YA novels, fashion, and music. You can find her in an ethnic studies class or a funky coffee shop.