Sit, Stand, or Kneel: It's Your Right

As of late, activism has become a common trend among celebrities who are privileged enough to have a platform from which they can preach their political and social grievances. Celebrities are trying to become the "voice of the people.” This has resulted in both praise and criticism from the general public. On one hand, it's great that celebrities are using their elevated status and social media presence to bring awareness to social issues. On the other hand, some people view popular media as an escape from our politically divided society, and become annoyed when they cannot fully distance themselves. Many also criticize celebrities, saying that they are unable to truly see the struggles of the average American due to their status. They argue that that their economic status provides a curtain between them and the situations at hand. Critics cannot negate, however, the absolute impact that celebrity presence has  in terms of the spread of political ideologies among the American public.

One of the more obvious examples of this phenomenon would be the "Take a Knee" movement among NFL athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, who chose to kneel as opposed to standing during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality in the United States. This movement has proved to be extremely controversial. Many have debated as to whether or not this movement is disrespectful to what the American flag represents and what veterans who fought and died for. Many long-time NFL fans have turned their backs on their once beloved teams, giving away their season tickets and even burning their NFL merchandise. The “Take a Knee” movement has also spread beyond the national level to community and school sporting events. However, those players have been subjected to a slew of debate and criticism as well. Several instances have been reported of high school athletes being punished by their school administrations because they participated in the movement.

These critics need to remember that these athletes and students have every right to express their opinions and ideas, just as critics have the right to express theirs. In fact, this inalienable right is in our Constitution. “Freedom of Speech” protects our right as citizens to speak our mind and let our voices be heard, without fear of prosecution. Yes, there are a few exceptions, (i.e. you can't post something blatantly racist on Facebook and expect your boss at your new job to just be cool with it), but, overall, this right allows us to speak out and be heard. It gives us the right to criticize public figures, demonstrate, and work towards making our nation the best it can be. And yes, it gives people the right to choose whether they wish to sit or stand during the anthem.  

If you feel a particularly strong tie to our country's anthem and wish to stand with your hand over your heart, then be my guest. Patriotism isn't necessarily a bad thing; people are allowed to love the country they live in. Things get dangerous when people practice blind, unquestioning patriotism. It is okay to question practices within the United States’s complex political, economic, and social systems. Those who question the system aren't being unpatriotic, they're just practicing patriotism in a ways that is different than what we have been raised to recognize as the norm. Think about it. These young people see these injustices occurring within their country and care about our nation so much that they risk their careers in an attempt to change it for the better. To me, that sounds like one of the most patriotic things a person can do. They may not change the world today, but little steps like these are the gateway to big social change.

College is the time when you begin to learn more about the world around you. You gain more perspective on issues and begin to formulate your own opinions and ideas. College is also a time when you are given the opportunity to and are even encouraged to step up and advocate for what you believe is right.  Recently, several colleges stated that they will be instating severe consequences for athletes who do not rise for the national anthem. The universities have not commented on what action they will be taking against players who protest. What students need to realize is that their opinion and their voice matters: the actions you take as a young adult can shape the future for yourself and for students across the nation. Nobody should be able to take away your rights as a citizen of this nation, no matter how much they disagree with your opinion. Silencing and censoring a student's freedom of speech is extremely immoral and unconstitutional.

That being said, you critics out there also have the right to criticize those who protest. We recognize that you have the right to say whatever you please about whoever you please. That's your right as a citizen. However, I hope you consider my words before you make any more accusations. Our goal as citizens of the United States is to build a better nation where everybody feels safe and well provided for. Our current system isn't perfect, and we all need to address the elephant in the room and work together towards making it perfect (or at least, the best it can be). If nobody addresses the issue in the first place, nothing will ever be changed, and our country will continue to hurt. So sit, stand, kneel, whatever you choose, it's your right, and nobody should try to take it away from you. Critics, give these kids a chance and remember that it is their choice as much as it is yours.