In 2016, NFL San Francisco 49ers quarterback player Colin Kaepernick sat and kneeled during the national anthem in protest of the injustice and discrimination facing many minority Americans. This memorable act of defiance was a domino effect that led to dozens of other athletes from all different teams and sports engaging in similar silent protests. As of September 2017, over 200 players in the NFL alone were a part of the silent protests.
When questioned, Kaepernick and other protesters explained that their silent protests were not to be viewed as a sign of disrespect. Instead, Kaepernick clarified, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Despite this, many Americans interpreted players who protested as being disrespectful to the flag and what the flag represented, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
In an attempt to demonstrate his disdain for players protesting, on Sunday, October 8th, Vice President Mike Pence left an NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers after more than 20 players from the 49ers knelt during the national anthem to protest the continuous police brutality many black Americans face.
Pence stated, “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our National Anthem.” He further tweeted, “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.”
This political stunt by the Vice President has elicited several responses from citizens and politicians alike.
First, many Americans are calling the administration hypocritical for engaging in the very act that they’ve been condemning. As guaranteed by the First Amendment in the Constitution, Vice President Pence had every right to exit that Colts game—just like all athletes have the right to protest during the national anthem. Americans are calling it hypocritical for Trump and Pence to support one protest, but condemn the other, when ultimately both are exercises of free speech.
Moreover, many are pointing to the irony that players are being criticized for protesting the flag given that the flag is supposed to represent freedom and equality. How can one advocate for freedom, while simultaneously condemning those who utilize their constitutional rights? How can one advocate for equality while simultaneously supporting one protest, but not the other?
On the other hand, many politicians and athletes are claiming the walkout was deliberate. Eric Reid, a player for the 49ers, called the move a “PR stunt,” furthering the idea that the White House knew Pence was planning to leave early given the number of team members who typically kneel during the national anthem.
Reid was not alone in this belief. Democratic Senator of Hawaii, Brian Schatz, tweeted “Wait. This was orchestrated to make a point?” Even going as far as to say, “That’s not an inexpensive thing to do.” Indeed it was, as the Huffington Post found that the trip cost taxpayers approximately $88,000.
Whether or not you agree with the Trump administration or the NFL players, one thing is clear: something needs to be done to fix the injustice and discrimination facing many Black Americans.