In the football pre-season of 2016, then Forty-Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat through the national anthem before the games, instead of standing attentively with hand over heart. Later he went further and kneeled during the Star-Spangled Banner. He did this to protest police brutality and the oppression of people of color; he stressed that (despite appearances to many observers) he was not being anti-American or disrespectful of the military. In the following weeks and months, some of his colleagues throughout the NFL joined in the protests, as did other athletes, such as Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team.
This “taking a knee” has become a major point of controversy, with NFL fans, coaches, owners, advertisers, and sportscasters weighing in on the matter. Other sports figures, celebrities, and politicians — including President Trump — have also taken sides. In the meantime, Kaepernick has become a free agent and hasn’t been hired by another team, and NFL viewership has plummeted. In some sense, things are as they should be: These are adults expressing their beliefs, taking action, and bearing the consequences.
On the other hand, we have seen in the news that high school students have taken a knee in Brunswick, Ohio; Cincinnati; Bossier City, Louisiana; Cedar Grove, Georgia; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Houston, Texas; Buffalo, New York; Hillsboro, Tennessee; and numerous other locations. Players at a Texas middle school took a knee before a game, and were threatened with expulsion from the team. A middle schooler in New Mexico took a knee while performing the national anthem. A ten-year-old in Texas kneeled during the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of the school day. In Belleville, Illinois, an entire team of eight-year-olds and their coach took a knee before their game.
People of good conscience will differ on this issue, but perhaps we can all agree on the following. Children should not be used as pawns or props for political reasons. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for parents to talk to their children in an age-appropriate way about the substance of the controversy. This is also a chance for everyone to be reminded that we can disagree about something, and still get along as friends, relatives, teammates, neighbors and co-workers.