There's three things that are truly sacred to Americans: their flag, their football, and their freedom of speech. Mess with any one of them, and you'll suddenly find yourself one friend short. Well, all three got thrown into the hot pot of simmering racial tensions this week, creating a massive controversy that has everyone rushing to take sides. But who's right, and who's wrong? This is one debate that is not cooling down...
The Preseason Match
Normally, only the hardcore fans are the ones watching the preseason NFL matches. But this one between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants was a little different. Not because of the score, although the 10-6 win to the Browns was a somewhat surprising result. It was because of what the players did before the match.
Bending The Knee
Every single match of the NFL, they play the Star Spangled Banner, and every single match, all the players and crowd stand to pay their tribute to the United States of America. But not this match. As the anthem played, 12 stars from Cleveland Brown decided to kneel instead of stand. In the US, that's pretty much the ultimate form of disrespect. But they had their reasons...
Why They Did It
What they did was out of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who played with the San Francisco 49ers last season. You might remember that he, out of all his team, refused to stand for the national anthem last year in protest against the treatment of black people by the nation. It was a fair statement, but his actions stoked up a huge controversy that has been raging ever since.
What Happened To Kaepernick?
The man at the center of last year's storm seems to have found himself at a bit of a loose end. He sat or knelt for the entirety of the 49ers preseason games in 2016, and following his actions received death threats, with on anonymous NFL executive branding him a "traitor". The intense public pressure led him to leave the 49ers, and this season - despite incredible statistics - he's still unsigned by any NFL team.
There's no doubt that this kind of action is designed to draw attention to an issue that simply won't die down. Racism is alive and well, as the events over the last two years - hell, the last two centuries - has clearly shown, and the tension between the black and Caucasian community has reached a boil. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests across the country, we're seeing an age where any tiny action can have massive repercussions.
What the players of the Cleveland Browns did has already led to massive backlash from many fans and the NFL. Veteran's groups have especially blasted the players' decision, saying that it's incredibly disrespectful to the country's servicemen and women. One vet's group in Cleveland has already stated that it will no longer show Browns games in its club.
Refusing The Invitation
But the biggest protest against the actions came from the Cleveland police force and EMS (Emergency Medical Services). They were originally invited to carry the flag in with the Browns players for the season's opening game, but now they've refused the invitation. "If the ownership of the Browns and the league are going to allow that type of stuff to happen, and then come to us and say, 'We want you to help us with the flag,' that's hypocritical. We're not gonna participate."
Otherwise, It's Business As Usual
Of course, the police and EMS teams are not going to let this controversy get in the way of their duty. Although they refuse to perform any official ceremonies with the Browns now, they will still patrol the matches and help out with emergency care as usual. Despite the supposed snub, they're dedicated to their duties.
The Browns Are Backing Their Players
One of the most interesting parts of this action is that the team management knew in advance that this protest would take place, and they gave the players their blessings. "We feel it's important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression," the team said.
Everybody who's participated in any small protest like this knows that it's like spitting on a tank. Symbolic, but it won't stop anything. But with race relations in the States at their worst for many years, and racism rearing its ugly head time and time again, they're hoping that a single spit will turn into a wave of change. Maybe, with just enough publicity and support, they can get us to help beat these ugly prejudices.
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