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To Kneel Or Not To Kneel – Where Does Oregon & The Pacific Northwest Stand?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Miriam Ludlow, Oregon Sports News

Growing up with one parent passionate about sports and another one about politics, I have to say never in my life had I imagined the two worlds to collide the way they have in the last 10 months, especially in the last 72 hours since President Trump’s statement against NFL players exercising their right to protest.

The kneeling during the national anthem started in September 2016 when Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt during the national anthem before an exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers.

At said time, his actions were seen not only as disrespectful but anti-patriotic. The effect in the sport was for sure felt, fans were outraged, peers feeling they had to take a side and officials having to make decisions, even though no NFL rule had been broken or violated with any part of the action at hand.

For Kaepernick, the impact on his career continues to be seen. It landed him without a team (even though officials refuted that was the reason he had not been picked) and until this weekend, many of us had felt his future was further and further away than before and some had gone as far as saying he would never recover from it all.

But all that has for sure changed since Saturday. Not only have more NFL and college football players joined Kaepernick, but even NFL owners have taken a stand behind their players and their right to protest. NBA players and one MLB player joined as well. It seems to be that what was expected to result an ultimatum to the NFL given by President Trump, it has actually empowered a movement that a year ago many saw as a hopeless one.

The question many of us sitting in front of our television or at a stadium across the US was – Who is the next player or team to kneel down? What will our team do? But more important, where do I stand in all of this?

Historically protests in the field, arena or stadium are rare. Sports have always somehow managed to remain above politics, socio-economic circumstances or personal views and philosophies. In fact, sports have always been the one place where we can put differences apart and come together as one.

It is obvious that the country, in fact the world has changed, and sooner or later we would see the effects in sports as well. So to help answer the “who is next to kneel down?” for those in Oregon and our neighbors in Washington, here is a quick overview on what has happened in the past year when players and teams have exercised their right to express themselves and we can decide if that is indicative of what we can expect our teams stance to be.

On December 7, 2014, Oregon Ducks basketball players Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell held their hands up during the National Anthem at a game versus Mississippi. Benjamin and Bell decided to exercise their freedom of expression in protest of a federal grand jury’s decision not to indict police officers who had slain two African-American men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York.

The action did not go unnoticed, and it sparked a debate to the point that even their own coach, who told The Oregonian he wasn’t aware of Benjamin and Bell’s decision to protest had something to say, “I think every player has a right to express their opinion; however, I didn’t think that was the time and place for it,” Altman said. “On their own as individuals, they have that right. As part of our basketball team, when you put the Oregon jersey on, it’s a little different. So, I think there’s a time and place for everything. I don’t think that was the appropriate time.”

Said statement certainly reflected where the support or perhaps “lack of” Benjamin and Bell had within their team. While Altman did not dismiss their right to express themselves, he certainly made it clear it shouldn’t happen when they were wearing the Oregon jersey.

Two weeks later, Altman’s statement stood out a little bit more as it was a major contrast to that of Coach Joey Thomas, Garfield High School in Seattle, Wa. whose full football team knelt during the national anthem in a game versus West Seattle High on September 17, 2016.

Thomas shared with Sports Illustrated the following: “Everybody wants to talk about how this is disrespectful to the American flag,” Garfield coach Joey Thomas said. “That’s a smokescreen. How about we talk about the issues people are kneeling and fighting for? If we could start addressing the issues and finding solutions to the issues, we won’t have to kneel.”

The week before said game, West Seattle High (Garfield’s opponent) had some of its players kneel during the national anthem but with approval from the school’s administration. It isn’t hard to see especially again, in the last 24 hours the different responses athletes, organizations and officials are making or made even before President Trump’s open attack.

After all, the President’s statement did call for action, and prompted the need for the NFL to take a true stance, and as we can see the NFL is standing behind their players and their right to protest whether the President finds it okay or not.

This of course highlights how times have changed, how the US has changed! Sports have always been the one place where people come together no matter what. In fact is what makes sports so unique and empowering. Because it brings us together to a moment of high and positive energy above all.

However today the sports “friendly zone” is in the center of it all and I do not know about you, but I am very curious to see how many Oregon officials and athletes decide to take a stand and especially curious to know which side they will pick.

Will they stand up for those who want to protest and their right to play as they stood up for those who have found themselves in criminal activity or past convictions in high profile cases such as the OSU Helmich case? Or will they do the same thing Altman did when Benjamin and Bell exercised their right and make sure they are set apart?

The voice of one man has evolved into a significant movement, up until Monday night more than 200+ did not stand for the national anthem. Some teams, such as the Seattle Seahawks didn’t even come out to the field while the anthem was being sang. Even those given a rendition of the anthem itself during a few games knelt down or joined the protest.

As an Oregonian, a sports fanatic and a woman who loves this country and what it stands for, I believe that if we truly are a state where equality and civil rights are important, should any athlete or official make the decision to kneel down, not come out or lock arms during the national anthem, Oregon fans, athletes (high school, college or professional) including officials should stand and support them as they would any other.  However, whatever the decision athletes and officials across the country take, we must not forget their right to kneel or not to kneel is a very personal one. As for you and me, the fans: Will you and I stand behind them or not?


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