Kneeling players hit new low

Jeremy Carranco, Sports Editor

Sunday’s are all about the NFL. It’s a day to kick back and enjoy some football or get nervous, hoping your team pulls out a win, which can be fun in a strange and ironic way. Unfortunately, this past Sunday the attention around the league was not on the games, but what took place pregame during the national anthem.

Many NFL players and staff members responded to President Trump’s recent comments against kneeling or sitting as a form of protest against police brutality aimed at black Americans during the national anthem by kneeling again, but this time in mass numbers as a team. The protest started right away with Sunday’s early kickoff between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

Most of the time you may see two to three players taking a knee in protest, this time it was a majority of players on both the Ravens and Jaguars sharing their sentiments by kneeling.

Taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem became a trend during the last NFL season when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, decided to do so in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. Although Kaepernick remains a free agent this season, several NFL players have continued the protest.

Sadly, some teams didn’t even show up on the field for the anthem on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced before the game that they would not even come out on the field for the anthem, but instead remain in the locker room until its conclusion. Head coach for the Steelers, Mike Tomlin told CBS that the reason they did not want to come out on the field was because his team did not “want to play politics,” yet, ironically, they did by doing just that.

One Steeler player decided that staying in the locker room was not the best decision. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger veteran of the United States, still came out and put his hand over his heart while standing in the tunnel during the national anthem.

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said in his postgame press conference on Sunday that if his team was going to be united that they needed to “all stand and look at the flag, be at attention with feet at 10 and two, our left hand down on the side, right hand on our hearts and listen to the national anthem.”

As a fan of the Tennessee Titans, I was disappointed when not a single Titans player was on the field for the national anthem before their game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks themselves made the same decision, as not a single player came out to honor the flag and its anthem.

According to the NFL rulebook, the failure to be on the field for the anthem may result in discipline such as a fine, suspension or loss of a draft pick. The specific rule pertaining to the national anthem is found on pages A62-63 of the league rulebook and it states:

“The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”

But a league official said the key phrase is “may result,” adding he won’t speculate on whether the Steelers would be disciplined. This shows you where the NFL stands on this issue and sadly it’s changing the meaning for football on Sunday for these players, which influences fans more than anybody.

Although I understand the rights we have in this country and reasons for the players’ protest, its spread and evolvement of it in this form has reached a point of what I call ridiculous. Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy protested on Sunday by stretching on his knees throughout the national anthem, the only Bills player not standing, making his actions look much more ridiculously obvious.

Patriots fans even booed their own team during the national anthem when some players decided to take a knee. It’s truly upsetting that fans, who want to respect the anthem, aren’t because they are so distracted and angry at what their players are doing.

While Sunday’s tensions rose throughout the league and spread to nearly every game, protesting even reached Major League Baseball on Saturday, when Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the national anthem before their game against the Texas Rangers, making him the first MLB player in history to do so.

“My decision had been coming for a long time,” Maxwell said when speaking to the media after Saturday’s game. “The only way we can come together is by informing…To single out NFL players for doing this isn’t something we should be doing—I felt it should be a little more broad.”

I rarely speak out about political issues because it’s a constant fight and there is always something to argue about. However, as a huge sports fan I have become annoyed, frustrated and angry that it has reached the sporting world and to the level that it has risen. I am also worried about where professional sports are heading with this fight.

What if teams want to start protesting during the game too? Will teams “not want to play politics” then? If so, it sounds like teams will not even play the game they love.

Our country is not under the best leadership at this moment and I acknowledge that, but where is taking a knee and sitting during the time when we honor our country going to take us? The NFL is the biggest stage in all of sports, and many players have influence on not just the fans at the game, but on the millions of viewers who watch these games every Thursday, Sunday and Monday. Think of all the children who look up to these athletes every Sunday. Will they start taking a knee and thinking the national anthem is a negative thing?

They already have. An 8-year-old youth football team in Cahokia, Illinois, all took a knee with their coaches at a Sept. 19 game as a result of what the NFL players have decided to do.

No, I do not agree with Trump that we should “fire” the players who kneel, but I honestly do believe that this level of protest is and will not accomplish anything for real change. The changes must come from the politicians and I highly doubt they’ll be influenced by these athletes.

The world is hurting with racism and violence creeping back up in numbers as of late, but the sporting world has decided to do something about it and it’s simply not working.