3 Ways To Respond To A Friend During The Super Bowl Who Doesn't Get Kneeling Protests

Let's start with the basics ...

While the primary focus is always the football being played, much of this past NFL season has been about something else: players kneeling during the national anthem. This act of peaceful and silent protest has divided the country and, should it happen at the Super Bowl, could lead to some pretty heated discussion among friends who are just enjoying wings, pizza, and beer.

First, a bit of background on the movement. It first began after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the preseason games of 2016. He did this to raise awareness for police brutality and racial inequality in America. Since Kaepernick — who has been essentially shut out of the sport altogether — began this, it has spread to include players across the NFL, drawing both praise and criticism. This has died down as of late but, given the fact that the Super Bowl is one of the biggest events of the year, it could happen again.

"The Super Bowl is a live event … and when you're covering a live event, you're covering what's happening. So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live," Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer for Super Bowl LII, said at a Television Critics Association panel, via Adweek. Should players choose to kneel while Pink sings the national anthem, Gaudelli said it would be covered "the same way we would cover it on a Sunday night game or a Thursday night game," meaning the athlete would be identified, their reason for kneeling would be explained "in a very concise way," and everyone would "then get on with the game."

So, what if this happens again and the friends you've invited over or the ones hosting you say something, and you have an awkward situation on your hands? Don't worry, we've got you. There are three probable things they might say and this is how you can respectfully respond.

THEM: “They’re disrespecting our military, the police, the American flag, the national anthem, and our country.”

YOU: I understand why you might think that, since the players are actively not standing during the national anthem, which you've come to directly associate with these things. But, as mentioned above, what these athletes are trying to accomplish has nothing to do with them. It's about standing up for — pun intended — people who are not being treated fairly in this nation.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color," Kaepernick said at the time, bringing up how people of color, specifically Black people, were being killed by the police — the events that have spawned Black Lives Matter. "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."

Instead of making this an issue about anything other than what Kaepernick — as the architect of this movement — initially set out to address, you're dodging the real issue. We should not be afraid to discuss this tough-yet-important topic because, if we keep ignoring it, we won't progress socially as a nation. The things Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter are fighting for are real and deserve your attention. If this is achieved by kneeling during the national anthem, so be it.

THEM: “They need to shut up and play football.”

YOU: We, as American citizens, have the right to have a voice — both literally and metaphorically. Courtesy of the First Amendment, we have a right to free speech. This extends to all of us and, coincidentally, does not exclude football players. These athletes have every right to stand up for something they believe in and, as we've seen with Kaepernick, they will stake an entire career on it because it means that much to them. As even President Donald Trump pointed out in 2017, Kaepernick was essentially "fired" for being a lightning rod for change.

Believe it or not, this isn't the first time sports stars have used the national anthem as a moment of protest. That's right, Kaepernick is not the first to do this. He is but the latest in a long history of people, usually people of color, speaking out about social injustice, showing opposition to wars going on around the world, or standing up for their own religious rights. The Washington Post has a handy video showing you the moments through history when this has happened.

Just because these people are being paid probably millions of dollars to play a sport — which, to be completely fair, is probably too dangerous to be played the way it currently is — doesn't mean they have any less of a right to have an opinion and to voice that opinion. The same also goes for celebrities. This protest has also spread to other sports and dominated pop culture dialogue ever since first happening, showing just how wide-reaching it is.

THEM: "They shouldn't be allowed to do this. The NFL should step in and stop this."

YOU: Interesting thought, but the NFL actually allows this. Besides it being done out of peaceful protest about a topic unrelated to the national anthem (as mentioned above) and a First Amendment right (also mentioned above), the organization does not have a rule forbidding this kind of action. When Kaepernick first knelt, the NFL released a statement which reads: "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem."

In the late part of 2017, there was a proposed rule that would have forbidden NFL players from kneeling during the national anthem but that went nowhere. The 49ers, when Kaepernick first rebelled, defended their players as well, saying that they "recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."

The joy here is that you're allowed to have a negative opinion about the way in which these players are going about trying to accomplish something meaningful — that's your right, too. Nobody needs to limit an athlete's freedom of speech when you have just as much of a privilege to not agree with what they're doing. After all, kneeling for the national anthem is meant to get us talking about what is going on in our country and having a respectful dialogue about the act itself is, in a way, a sign that the desired outcome is being met.

(H/T: NFL)

Cover image: USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

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