A storm, which is brewing on the football fields across America, looks set to gather enough strength to shake Donald Trump’s political base in the coming months.
Since 2016, football players across the US have been kneeling down in protest when the American national anthem is played at the stadiums. The bosses at the National Football League (NFL) have decided to crack down on the protests which is a throwback to the Black Power Salute by black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carol during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
The NFL team owners, trying to be on the right side of the government as well as the revenue-generating networks, put a policy in place late last month, which states that the players could not kneel during the anthem, and if they do so, they would attract punishment, or their teams would face penalties.
READ MORE | US Footballers Protest During National Anthem, But it Remains a Song to Slavery
The policy, in turn, has triggered ethical questions about curbing the players’ freedom of expression. The NFL bigwigs, trying to find a middle path, have clarified that the athletes will have to stand if they are on the playing field or at the sideline during the anthem, and they could opt to stay in the locker room during the ceremony.
Further controversy and fresh protests from the players were stoked after Trump praised the NFL's decision. Earlier this week, the US president cancelled 2018 NFL champions Philadelphia Eagles' visit to the White House – a traditional ceremony – and in place of that, hosted a ceremony supporting the national anthem.
Americans with protesters
With Trump coming out all guns blazing against the kneel down protests through his tried-and-tested tirades on Twitter among other moves – branding the protesters as unpatriotic – the whole episode has left Americans polarised.
There is a bright side, though.
Most Americans believe that the NFL players, who kneel during the national anthem to protest police shootings of unarmed black men, are not unpatriotic, as per a Quinnipiac University poll published on June 7.
The poll found that 58 per cent of voters don't think players who protest are being unpatriotic, compared to 35 percent who do. The divide falls along political and racial lines, says CBS News in its report.
The first protest
It all began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback with National Football League (NFL) team San Francisco 49ers, knelt in protest when the National Anthem was being played before a match. Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017 and who is yet to be signed on by any other NFL team, was protesting against racial injustice and police brutality following the gunning down by the police of two unarmed black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in July 2016.
READ MORE | Did You Know that the US National Anthem Justifies Slavery?
Since then, many football players have protested by kneeling during the national anthem.
Meanwhile, Kaepernick, a free agent and out of job now, filed a grievance against the NFL last October, claiming that the teams are colluding and denying him a chance to play.
There would be a lot of substance to that claim as Trump has been very vocal in demanding that the NFL sack players who “disrespect” the flag.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’” he said during a rally seeking support for Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange last September.
As the protests rage, the sentiments in America have also seen a steady shift with many now believing that the professional athletes have every right to protest or stand up (in this case kneel down) for a cause.