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Respectful Kneeling

Category: The Teen Scene
Posted: October 6, 2017

By: Josh O'Shea, Young Adult Librarian

The American Flag flying above the trees.

Two high school students from Victory and Praise Christian Academy in Texas were removed from their football team because they knelt during the national anthem. Students at high schools as well as NFL players are kneeling during the national anthem.

Many people say kneeling is disrespectful. One fan attending the Bears Packers game on Thursday said it was the most horrible thing she’s seen, and another said she “stands for the flag and kneels for the lord.” The groups kneeling say it’s not disrespecting the flag, the military, or the country. It’s calling attention to things that contradict the nation’s values. But there are consequences for some people who kneel; two students removed from the team, and the man who started it — Colin Kaepernick — hasn’t been offered any NFL positions.

After listening to what people from both sides have said about the protest, I think kneeling is about a love of country and respect for the flag. The flag is a symbol of equality, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Over time, we’ve amended the constitution or passed certain laws moving our nation towards equality for all (14th amendment, Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, etc.). The protest this kind of keeling represents is about the unequal and biased treatment people of color sometimes experience from the economic, political, and authority structures in America.

These experiences are opposed to the values our nation maintains. So, in this mindset, the people who are kneeling say, “We love this country. This country has values we hold dear. But there are behaviors in this country that disrespect America and Americans, namely racism in many forms.” The same reason individuals join the military is to respect and protect the nation they love. The people who are kneeling want to preserve the goodness in America, while recognizing that we, as a nation, cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice that disrespects the American flag.

Kneeling has never been a sign of disrespect. In religion and politics (mostly pre-modern practice), it’s a posture of adoration and deference. A disrespectful sign would be holing up your middle finger, or yelling obscenities, during the national anthem. Kneeling is a sign of reflection and humility. Those who kneel want everyone to see that there are problems we can’t run from that affect our pastimes just as deeply as our jobs or homes.

Kneeling on national television (for the NFL) or not (for the high schools) is no small thing. The Greensboro Sit-In and Montgomery Bus Boycott were large-scale nonviolent protests. The leaders chose mundane things like bus rides and diners because people did them every day, because they were places everyone could relate to, and because they were things that didn’t seem “political” but were political spaces. Likewise, Kaepernick, and those who came after him, chose high-profile spaces to display their message. The reason the Civil Rights marches happened were not because the participants disrespected Washington or the U.S., but because they wanted to draw attention to a problem that was plaguing their cherished homeland.

Some people might say the issues the players are protesting aren’t valid enough to bring to a sports game. Or, they may say sport games are places that shouldn’t be political spaces. I’m not addressing that here. Kneeling in protest, in my view, isn’t disrespectful: it’s the opposite. The people who kneel think the game they love is the platform for the issues that matter to them. If nothing is as American as football, then the problems that hurt America are football’s problems too.

Here are some great resources for you to learn more about this issue.


“Patriotism with Dignity” by Paul Attner (Sporting News via EbscoHost  — You will need your library card to access from home.)

“How Black Women Athletes at the Olympics Helped Restore My Patriotism” by Christina Coleman (Essence via EbscoHost  — You will need your library card to access from home.)

“Never Forget.” by Bryan Harley (American Iron Magazine via EbscoHost  — You will need your library card to access from home.)


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