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The Complex Reality of the NFL Kneeling Protests

America has made significant strides in equality since the 20th century, but it’s undeniable that racism still exists in all its disgusting glory in 2017. We’ve seen our first black president, yet we’ve also seen a resurgence of public appearances by the White Supremacy movement. America is at a crossroads, where a majority of the traffic is moving towards a stronger, more diverse country and where the minority wish to hold us in the past. It’s quite strange that the White Supremacists, who believe Whites to be naturally superior to the “others”, are the same ones fearful that progressive policies placing the “others” on equal footing will threaten their status quo.

This confused and scared minority of White Supremacists are the reason protests must still take place. We’ve made great strides toward living true to the message in the Declaration of Independence, that it’s a self-evident truth all men and women are created equal, yet we still have a ways to go. We must protest until all Americans truly believe racism to be a stain on the history of this country and pledge to fight for its eradication world-wide.

The NFL has been one of the most recent stages for national protest. Led by the actions of Colin Kaepernick, NFL players are kneeling during the National Anthem in an effort to raise awareness about the unfair treatment of Blacks by law enforcement. It’s garnered a tremendous amount of media coverage and response. There’s an intense amount of support, but also an intense amount of opposition. If, as mentioned above, the racists make up a minority, why has this protest received such strong opposition? The reality is that the method of protesting causes an internal conflict with a zero-sum solution in a lot of people.

The flag of the United States of America is a powerful symbol. Just as its stripes are red and white, its symbolism is both bloodied and pure.

The flag does represent a nation that “oppresses Black people and people of color”, this is as self-evident as the truth that all men and women are created equal. We must accept this, denounce it, and amend it.

The problem is, the flag also represents so much more. It represents a nation that believes the governed deserve a voice in the government. It represents a nation that has made tremendous strides for humanity in both material and intellectual ways. And most importantly, it represents a nation whose sons and daughters have given the ultimate sacrifice time and time again for the belief that all people, regardless of characteristics, deserve a life free of oppression.

When a protester kneels to the flag, they may be trying to protest one of this nation’s faults, but to some, they’re also disrespecting many of this country’s merits. This is what makes it particularly difficult for people who believe in the cause to support the method of protest.

Protests are necessary and powerful, but they must be carefully planned and targeted. This is where the kneeling protest has slightly missed its mark.

By kneeling to the flag, instead of condemning the wrongdoings, protesters put some Americans on the defensive.  As Lincoln remarked during debates on slavery, a man on the defensive will “retreat within himself [and] close all the avenues to his head and his heart.” To understand their tactical error one need only look to one of the greatest protesters the United States has ever seen: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King understood the power of the American flag and how to utilize it to rally a nation. He knew no one could debate his fight for equality when he bore the flag of the nation founded upon the declaration “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

He understood that when he bore this symbol there was no way to oppose his position without opposing the nation; protesters today mistakenly choose the opposite and accidentally alienated their own cause.

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Dr. King did not turn his back on America or the symbol of her. He faced America head on and demanded it “cash its checks” to its forgotten citizens. He called on us to act as the values of our nation require and reminded us of these values by proudly raising the symbol of this nation. He continuously brought the nation together for his cause because he believed “We cannot walk alone.” Dr. King sought change through the proper method, the long-lasting power of the American people, not the short-lived power of an emotional act.

Just as Dr. King marched to the “hallowed spot” to utilize a national symbol for his cause, NFL players should embrace the American flag in the pursuit of theirs.

Instead of kneeling, a more ideal method could be causing a delay in the game’s activities by marching to the 50 yard line after the coin toss and planting American flags in the middle of the field, ringing them with posters detailing statistics and photos of victims that force the nation to acknowledge reality.

Most importantly, this would focus the nation upon the American flag, reminding us that if we allow social and racial inequality to exist, then we, not the protesters, are the ones disrespecting the flag born from the sentence “All men are created equal.”

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