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Maybe it’s time we all took a knee

REUTERS/USA Today Sports/Kirby Lee
On Sept. 12, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and teammate 49ers free safety Eric Reid (35) kneel during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, California.

Colin Kaepernick made a decision before the 2016 NFL season that he was not going to stand during the singing of the national anthem at the introduction of each game. At first, this was a solitary protest that was reported to be against police brutality. However, Kaepernick explained at the end of the 2016 preseason that his protest was about more than that:

Andy Bahn

Ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.

All this happened before Donald Trump was elected president. By the end of the season, many athletes in the NFL, and throughout the nation, joined Kaepernick in his protest by sitting or kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

As of last week, the NFL owners remained united in their efforts to keep Colin Kaepernick off of any NFL roster despite an obvious need on many teams for a quarterback of his caliber. However, this was not enough for Trump. On Friday night, Trump referred to Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch” at a rally for an Alabama Republican Senate candidate, saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired.’ ”

It seems too obvious to point out that Trump’s referral to Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch,” for his quiet protest of a persistent American injustice, was much harsher than his “many sides” condemnation of the violent racists marching through the streets of Charlottesville earlier this summer. Now the world wonders if the “Make America Great, Again” slogan harkens all the way back to the days before Jackie Robinson to the Negro Leagues, when the “sons of a bitches” were not on the field with white players.

More kneel as Trump doubles down

On Sunday, Trump received his comeuppance from the NFL players who appeared united in condemnation of his ignorant statements, even as Trump doubled down on his remarks and called for fans to boycott the NFL. In addition, Trump praised fans who booed NFL players and appears to believe NFL fans will stand united with him against the NFL and other professional athletes who dare stand against him.

In Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” he tutors American citizens to stand out because someone has to:

It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is not freedom. Remember Rosa Parks. The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken and others will follow.

Colin Kaepernick stood out last year, and it had to feel strange for him when his protest was his alone. This year NFL athletes have joined him in this freedom of expression even as it has evolved from a protest against American injustices to a more specific protest against one man after the events of this past weekend. And so I ask you, sports fans, has the time come for us to make a choice between our favorite pastimes and the man we refer to as our president, Donald Trump?

Since Trump was elected by a minority of Americans, more and more people have started to realize what is really going on this country, and the recent events in Alabama and Charlottesville are only a couple of examples. As Trump’s approval ratings have fallen, more and more American citizens grow increasingly wary over this unhinged man’s access to the nuclear codes and his threat of total destruction of an entire nation, which would  have a reverberating effect around the globe.

‘What can we do?’

The question we must ask ourselves now is, “What can we do?” Many express a hope that members of the GOP-led Congress will eventually come to their senses and begin impeachment proceedings. Others have expressed a hope that Trump will just quit and go home. Many of us are gearing up for the elections of 2018 and 2020. Moreover, a great many have begun a solitary practice of daily prayer for the preservation of our democracy and the many citizens of the world.

But, isn’t there more for Americans to do than watch his poll numbers go down for the remainder of his four-year term, while hoping he doesn’t lead us toward catastrophe and even further away from the ideals and morals that truly do unite us under our shared appreciation for our democratic past?

To remain seated during the singing of the national anthem before a sporting event can feel very strange indeed. But go ahead, I encourage you to try it. It can also feel very strange to pray in a public space, while others around you are engaged in other activities. Again, I embolden you to try it.

What better way is there for America to express its disgust with the 45th president than to remain seated and bow our heads in prayer for every rendition of the national anthem that occurs while this man remains in office.

Colin Kaepernick stood out and broke the status quo. Stand out at your local high school football games, NFL games, the MLB playoff games, the WNBA championship series and the NBA openers for the 2017-18 season. We need a few strong fans to break the status quo and eventually, the rest of America will follow.

Andy Bahn is a lifelong Minnesota resident and sports fan.


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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/26/2017 - 10:55 am.

    Dogwhistle and distraction-in one issue

    Last night at a dinner in the White House with leaders of conservative groups…

    According to The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Trump spent much of the dinner ranting about Jeff Sessions having recused himself from the Russia probe. “You could feel it dripping with venom,” a source told Ballhaus. Trump apparently also told attendees he’s happy with how the NFL issue has “really taken off … He was happy — he feels like he’s clearly winning that exchange.”

    (end quote)

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 09/26/2017 - 11:35 am.

    Where to begin?

    More people favor standing and respecting the flag by huge numbers. Pro athletes have a platform where they can reach many people, I hope they use it to affect change not disharmony. I would not take a knee during the national anthem, for many personal reasons, but I would go to the inner city with a pro football player to help change the broken educational system there. I would push hard for the trades to be put back in public schools, great jobs available to electricians, plumbers, welders and folks willing to use their hands. I will stand with them against any suspect shooting involving the police against white, brown, black people. I will stand with them in finding ways the poor can rise up to middle class through creating better jobs. Liberals have tried to increase the wealth of the poor (all different skin colors) by redistribution of wealth since 1965 with the “war on poverty” to the tune of 20+ trillion dollars, it has failed miserably. The poor need jobs not hand outs.

    There are many issues pro players can bring to the attention of the millions who watch football every weekend. Taking a knee is one way to raise awareness, but alienates millions, working to actually better the lives of the poor (all poor) will have no one upset.

    • Submitted by Andrew Bahn on 09/26/2017 - 12:35 pm.

      It begins with an ask

      Hi Joe – Thanks for reading my commentary. I appreciate your comment on it. If you read all the way through to the last sentence, you will notice that my commentary ends with an “ask” to a few strong fans. I am happy you found my commentary worthwhile to read, but the “ask” was not addressed to the crowd, but a few leaders instead. You have chosen to remain with the crowd and I understand that. However, America right now, needs leaders.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/26/2017 - 01:40 pm.

      Alienating Millions

      “Taking a knee is one way to raise awareness, but alienates millions . . .” Racial justice is a subject that is bound to alienate people, one way or another. If you haven’t alienated someone, you haven’t really said anything.

      Awareness is the first step. Your post shows awareness (and some good ideas), but it is appalling how many people are willing to ignore the whole issue.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/26/2017 - 12:45 pm.

    Demeaning The Anthem

    Playing the national anthem at corporate events cheapens the anthem.

    But then I’ve always been opposed to bumper sticker patriotism, especially when the armed services buys it, as they have done a pro sporting events.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/26/2017 - 02:32 pm.

    Everyone “taking a knee” (what an ugly phrase for kneeling) is someone who actually VOTED in 2016. Right? That’s the beginning of real action to protest what is going on in our country.

    Trump is president because too many people didn’t bother to vote last year.

    • Submitted by Andrew Bahn on 09/26/2017 - 04:01 pm.

      Looking back or fwd.

      Hi Constance – Thanks for the comment. I spent many days, weeks and months trying to explain how we ended up in the current mess we are in on the verge of the end of democracy. Voter turnout was certainly one explanation that occupied many sleepless nights since November. But, the question now is what do we do now and tomorrow. Democracy does not only occur on election day.

      “Taking a knee” is a common phrase around the world of sports. I have heard it so often and for so long that I no longer have an aesthetic reaction to it, nor does any accompanying imagery come with the phrase when I hear it. It is no different than when a teacher says to his or her student “Take a seat.” When a coach calls his or her players in from the field for instruction, the first thing he or she will say is, “boys [girls] take a knee,” because there are no seats. So, it’s “take a knee” for kneeling, just as “take a seat” is for sitting. Language is often a peculiar thing that can appear to defy explanation, without some history and experience.

  5. Submitted by Britter Ritter on 09/26/2017 - 02:33 pm.

    Kneel or Heal?

    Not standing during the national anthem is an insult to the rest of the country. It is supposed to be a moment of unity, and for everyone to join in is the ultimate statement, whether social or political. While it meant something during the Vietnam War to protest, as the government was destroying a huge segment of our population, to compare police brutality to that is dishonest, self-serving, and insulting. Moreover, such highly-paid athletes are abusing whatever celebrity they have. I do not consider football to be any kind of national sport, so to pay so much attention to this is to exacerbate what is really a very petty action.

    • Submitted by Andrew Bahn on 09/26/2017 - 04:14 pm.

      United or divided

      Hi Baron – I think you get the point of the protest. The point is we are a divided nation and right now we are ruled by a tyranny of the minority. Check out Michelle Goldman’s debut NYT column todat at Trump is nurturing this division and orchestrating our democracy to the brink of civil war. The way for the majority in America to find unity at this junture is not to be sheep to the wolf-despot. Instead, we must find meaningful ways of civil disobedience to demonstrate we won’t follow this madman off the democratic cliff to catastrophic oblivian for his narcissistic pleasure.

  6. Submitted by Séamus McGuire on 09/26/2017 - 05:34 pm.

    I’m stymied

    I still have no idea what people are so offended by. Kneeling is a respectful gesture. In fact, the act of going on one knee has a name. It’s called genuflecting. Genuflection, by definition, is a show of respect.

    Then again, I believe that mandatory shows of patriotism are un-patriotic. In fact, if such displays are mandatory they are devoid of meaning. The people kneeling, to me, are far more patriotic than the ones standing.y

  7. Submitted by Nick Foreman on 09/26/2017 - 04:07 pm.

    This “president” who now attacks Sen. McCain

    Regularly and viciously is the complete “chicken sh*t” who managed to obtain 7 deferments to avoid the Vietnam war. What a man? LOL

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 09/26/2017 - 09:25 pm.

    First, I want to thank the author for explaining why they chose to “take a knee” which I understood now is just an equivalent of sitting. Second, no one is suggesting that players do not have the right to do it. However, they can be judged on the basis of what they are doing and called names and ridiculed – that is the right of other people. And, of course, the team owners have the right to fire them (unless their contracts say otherwise) and Trump has the right to say what he thinks and make a suggestion. Third, if some people are offended by being asked what country they are from, it is easy to see why people are offended by football players disrespecting this country. And fourth, those players would make a much bigger difference if they went to South Chicago or Baltimore and organize a football club, encourage kids to go to school and learn, quit gangs, etc. – they have money to do all this and much more..

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/27/2017 - 11:30 am.

      I Would Not Presume

      That the athletes in question are not involved in inner youth efforts. Quite often they are. And many just go about that work without tooting their own horn, just as Prince bought uniforms for inner city football teams on a very quiet basis.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 09/28/2017 - 09:34 pm.

        I am sure some do and we all have to thank them for doing it. It would also help if they do it in places such as South Chicago or Baltimore and also get involved personally. However, taking a knee is a totally unreasonable thing to do because in our polarized and wired world those who think that there is a problem and something needs to be done are already doing what they think they should and people who think that there is no problem or that the problem is just the opposite will just get irritated and convinced that they are right. So what’s the purpose?

  9. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 09/28/2017 - 07:35 am.

    Protest the government? Put “the man” in his place? Oh heck yeah, I’m all in.

    That said, I don’t get on my knees unless I’m tying my shoes, but I approve of others doing so.

  10. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/28/2017 - 08:32 am.


    As a 1 time practicing catholic, many decades ago, seems that genuflection when coming into church (taking a knee) was an act of reverence, Has something changed?

  11. Submitted by chuck holtman on 09/28/2017 - 09:23 am.

    The error is right at the beginning,

    among those who object to knee-takers “disrespecting the flag.” To those who “take a knee,” it is this very act that respects the flag.

    “The flag” is a piece of cloth. To a democrat, “the flag” is a symbol, a shorthand, for those principles on which our democracy was founded. There is nothing more respectful of “the flag” than to use the symbolic ceremony of recognizing it as an opportunity to peacefully, and with dignity, assert that we are falling short of what it represents. To an authoritarian, the flag is a symbol of concentrated power, and the flag is respected by standing in obedience. To the authoritarian, the flag mutes speech and obliterates differences of thought. Love it or leave it. To the democrat, this is as disrespectful of “the flag” as it gets.

    For 50 years, the chief electoral strategy of the Republican party has been to cultivate authoritarian followers. The authoritarian strategy is to systematically undermine community, mutual trust and social capital so that the collective power of the people cannot be counterposed against the power of the few. Mr. Smith above is correct that the knee-taking “alienates millions.” However, this is because a third of our population are now authoritarian followers conditioned to respond viscerally against anything that seeks to build, sustain or express the power of community. Nothing positive can be done that does not “alienate millions.” That is the fix we now are in, and it is hard to see how the possibility of democracy can survive.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/28/2017 - 09:00 pm.

      I like it

      Is it freedom or authoritarian leadership? I like the freedom, I am a big boy, well into my 60’s, Vietnam Era Vet, I can make my own decisions, as demonstrated by a WWII Missouri farmer Veteran! Don’t need a fascist 5 time deferment president to explain what (patriotism honor and dignity are). Got my own values!

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 09/28/2017 - 09:35 pm.

      Historically, standing while a country’s anthem is played has been considered a show of respect, which, by default, makes not standing a show of disrespect. Showing respect to the country and its flag and anthem by no means “obliterates differences of thought.” Showing disrespect for the country and then demanding this disrespect be respected does.

      As for “authoritarian followers,” who prevents who from speaking all the time?

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/29/2017 - 09:28 pm.


        All those folks in wheel chairs are disrespectful? What about the folks at home or at the sports bar?
        Who chooses? Are we going to send out disrespect police now?

        PS: They didn’t demand anything, they exercised their constitutional rights which it appears you take offense to. Wasn’t it back in the 30’s the Nazi’s didn’t like it much when folks didn’t salute the fuhrer, it was disrespectful

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 09/30/2017 - 02:30 pm.

          Those in attendance should stand if they physically can – mentioning people at home doesn’t make sense. And no, unlike in Nazi Germany and North Korea, those who don’t stand will be free to do it again and again. But millions of people have the right to call them disrespectful and stop watching football…
          P.S. If people take offense in seeing a statue of General Lee, you should understand why people take offense in seeing live people not standing for an anthem.

  12. Submitted by Chuck Pratt on 09/30/2017 - 11:08 am.

    If it is treason to not stand for the National Anthem…

    …then maybe President Trump can go back in time and execute Patrick Henry…and he and his supporters can execute me:

    “I know not what course others might take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.”

    I will remind those who support President Trump that it’s the Constitution of the United States that counts, not sullied symbols of the raped Constitution like the flag and the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, and by banning protests against these symbols when equal justice under law does not exist in the United States, those who support the ban are saying that anyone that they don’t like are not human, and deserve to be lynched.

  13. Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 10/01/2017 - 06:22 am.

    What exactly is being disrespected?

    One commentary claims the flag itself is being disrespected, another says it’s respect for the anthem that’s under debate, still another accuses protesters of disrespecting the country…

    All the while, people have allowed the flag to remain on poles in all sorts of inclement weather (something I was taught as a child was incredibly disrespectful) and drunken people have laughed, yelled and joked through the anthem for decades. And how about the flying of the Confederate flag that literally stands for the dissolution of the United States?

    It’s very hard to know where to place my indignation. Seems like so many these days want me to be mad for the sake of being mad.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/01/2017 - 09:01 pm.

      A flag and an anthem are just symbols of the country so most people look at this as disrespecting the country. Yes, it is bad to mishandle the flag in any other ways and I am sure people get upset about that but in your examples people don’t do it on purpose to make a point nor do they do it in organized manner…

      “Seems like so many these days want me to be mad for the sake of being mad.” Do you mean people who protest building names and monuments?

  14. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/01/2017 - 09:02 pm.

    It’s not racism, it’s just an understanding that there is appropriate and inappropriate time for everything, Protesting while at work is not appropriate and not protected by the Constitution.. Plus, there are other ways, more efficient and effective (this one will only make more people believe that there is no problem) which do not involve disrespecting the country and people.

  15. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 10/03/2017 - 08:27 am.

    Guess we disagree:

    On what free speech is all about: Didn’t refer to it as racism, refereed to “T”s authoritarian dictate as Fascism.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/03/2017 - 09:37 pm.

      Trump did not dictate anything or order anything – he does not have the power to do it. But sure he can express his opinion, right?

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/03/2017 - 04:33 pm.

    In a free country people decide for themselves whether or not the time, place, and nature of their speech is appropriate. No president or fellow citizen gets to make that decision for anyone or everyone else, and the impulse to do so is dictatorial. You can agree, disagree, like or not like, and you can express your views as such, but you don’t get to dictate the the nature or content of someone else’s political or social speech.

    In a free country like the United States of America, you don’t have to like what other people do, but unless their actions or speech are causing harm, you don’t get to tell other people what they can or cannot do.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/03/2017 - 09:37 pm.

      I agree: in a free country everyone decides what and when to say and government and other people cannot “dictate the nature or content of someone else’s political or social speech.” However, I can say what I think of their actions and/or speech and so, in our particular case, can all NFL fans who will quit watching football which, in turn, will prompt team owners to tell their players to stop doing it because they (players) are doing it during their paid work time meaning that team owners may tell them to quit.

      “unless their actions or speech are causing harm…” So who determines when speech causes harm?

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