By Denise Williams
Fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars were cheering, celebrating and even whispering the word “SuperBowl” after their win this past Sunday. The Jaguars went up against the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The Jaguars played one of their best games to date dominating the Ravens and securing a victory for the franchise. The final tally was Jacksonville Jaguars 44 – Baltimore Ravens 7 and diehard fans are still celebrating.
While sportscasters examine all of the nuances of the game, and how the Jaguars strategically sought the win; their triumph is cloaked in a growing controversy which is beginning to haunt the NFL. In 2016, San Franciso 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee as the National Anthem was played at a game to protest police brutality and to memorize the many African-Americans who were murdered by corrupt members of law enforcement. He stated he will not stand during the playing of the anthem until people of color are no longer murdered openly by law enforcement. His silent protest has sparked a debate surrounding patriotism, racism and the right to protest in America.
The conversation about race relations in America still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of politicians, lawmakers, and civil rights activists. Although Kaepernick’s peaceful personal protest brought light to the issue of racial disparity in our nation briefly, critics of his actions have focused their attention elsewhere. It has been determined by critics of his protest that kneeling with a bowed head may have been perceived by some as a respectful gesture, yet it dishonors our country, the flag, and our military. In the “2017 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League,” there is no hard and fast directive listed for players regarding the National Anthem. However, the handbook does indicate in Article 8, Section 4, titled “Equipment Uniforms and Player Appearance”. It states “Throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible to the stadium and television audience (including in pregame warm-ups, in the bench area, and during postgame interviews in the locker room or on the field), players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office.”
Questions are now being raised if players’ First Amendment rights to protest are being violated. The president made a statement that players who refuse to stand for the anthem should be dealt with by team owners. He stated the owners should respond by “Get(ting) that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Opponents of the president point out that displays of patriotism at sporting events are not voluntary. The NFL as recently as 2015, received millions of dollars from the Department of Defense for an array of patriotic-themed “gestures”. These gestures included flyovers, flag unfurlings, color guard ceremonies, enlistment campaigns and national anthem performances. In fact, the requirement for players to be on the field during the anthem was altered in 2009. Even then, the athletes were “encouraged” to stand, but before then there were no specific rules.
The debate around this issue is forcing even team owners to take a stand. Shad Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars released the following statement at halftime during last Sunday’s game. He was quoted as saying “It was a privilege to stand on the sideline with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium. I met with our team captains prior to the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem. Our team and the National Football League reflects our nation, with diversity coming in many forms – race, faith, our views and our goals. We have a lot of work to do, and we can do it, but the comments by the President make it harder. That’s why it was important for us, and personally for me, to show the world that even if we may differ at times, we can and should be united in the effort to become better as people and a nation” Khan’s criticism of the president comes as a shock to Trump supporters as he and six other NFL team owners donated a million dollars to the president’s campaign and inaugural fund.
The Unites States code 301- the national anthem states:
The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—
(1) when the flag is displayed—
(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
(2)when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.
It has yet to be determined how this debate surrounding race relations, the right to protest and patriotism will impact sporting events. The world continues to watch as free agent Colin Kaepernicks’ proactive decision to take a stand to draw awareness to police brutality becomes lost amid the debate over the national anthem. In a tweet the former quarterback sent on June 19th of this year said the following: “A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!”