Athlete protests against racial inequality persist despite opposition

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Photo credit: Levi Brown

More than a year ago, Colin Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers until March of 2017, started a quiet protest that is sparking outrage among athletes and spectators alike.

Athletes across the country are gathering together, supporting Kaepernick’s original protest movement against police brutality and racial discrimination. The outrage has sparked even more interest since President Donald Trump has spoken out about the issue in the last few weeks.

In the past, Kaepernick quietly sat during the U.S. national anthem but began kneeling in order to show more respect for military veterans. In the past, fans have called Kaepernick and his teammates out for showing disrespect to the U.S. and the flag.

“I don’t think Kaepernick is ‘right’ for doing it, but I do believe that he has every right as a citizen of this country to use his platform as a professional athlete to peacefully protest a cause that is an important issue in our country,” said Ashton Pomrehn, a former UAA basketball player. “Last year when [he] initially started protesting it was a protest against police brutality and racial inequality. People have seemed to get that confused with protesting against Trump.”

Kaepernick and his supporters aren’t the first athletes to bring attention to national issues — but all have been criticized at some point with claims that the protest is unpatriotic and that politics should be kept out of sports. However, he is following in the footsteps of many great athletes.

Muhammad Ali used his fame in boxing to oppose the Vietnam War, refusing to enter the armed services. He was denied a boxing license in every state as a result of his protest. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968 Olympic gold and silver medal winners of the 200m, used their wins to stand against racism and injustice by raising their fists during the national anthem. They were expelled from the games.

Jackie Robinson also silently opposed racism by not standing for the national anthem, and wrote in his autobiography that, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

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Today WNBA, NBA and amateur teams all over the U.S. are kneeling with Kaepernick. Collegiate athletes, such as senior Darrion Gray on the UAA track and field team, are staying informed on the issue.

“It’s supposed to be a protest against the injustice that’s happening in America with the police and the black [population]. However, it seems like the message he [originally meant the protest to be for] shifted from the national anthem to Donald Trump disrespecting the players,” Gray said.

On Sept. 26, Trump took to Twitter and urged the NFL to make a rule against letting players kneel during the national anthem. Trump’s rally against the professional athletes only promoted a more widespread awareness. Now college, high school and club teams all over the U.S. are kneeling with Kaepernick in protest.

As the protest gains more attention, Gray and other athletes noticed the cause may be shifting.

“I guess many of them aren’t kneeling for the original reason they first took a knee for [which is unfortunate],” Gray said.

However, Kaepernick still stands by his original protest and is working to spread a larger message.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people, and people of color… to me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick said in a press conference after his first time sitting during the national anthem last year.

While many Americans are against what Kaepernick and other athletes are doing in this protest, there are many others who are in full support of his message.

“Trump is inevitably sending a message to the people that racial oppression and inequality is not a problem in our country,” Pomrehn said. “This is why Kaepernick’s protest is so important. By kneeling, [he] is sending a message that speaks for all the citizens of this country that have to deal with oppression because of the color of their skin.”