NFL football is generally synonymous with egocentric players, the all-American dream, making cheerleaders look scantily clad (don’t get us started on that one) and, of course, tailgating. Traditionally, the sports world has not been a realm for politics; however, in the last few years, the NFL has seen a culture shift with the introduction of the #TakeAKnee movement.
#TakeAKnee began in summer 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback (QB), Colin Kaepernick (pronounced CAP-ER-NICK), started kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality toward people of colour in the US.
To provide some context, 2016 saw many cases of police brutality against people of colour, deaths at the hand of the police, and in response, nationwide protests, the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and activism from celebrities like Beyonce. Kaepernick has also donated over $1M USD of his own money to charitable organizations that help combat police brutality.
Like all good protests, this movement, for better or worse, caused a stir in media and politics... including gaining the attention of president Donald Trump. In classic Trump fashion, he (and his right-wing media minions) managed to spin this silent and peaceful protest about racial inequality into being about disrespecting the American flag and military —which, quick reminder, it very much was not about. Since then, #TakeAKnee has sparked change; some good, and some unintentionally not so much.
The GIST is giving you a #deepdive on all things #TakeAKnee because we think it’s important that you not only know about the movement, but that you are also aware of what has happened to get us where we are now.
2012: Kaepernick joins the NFL and leads the San Francisco 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl in his very first season. Atta boy! To say he was a v. promising QB at this point would be an understatement.
2016 preseason: Pre-season games are basically like exhibition games where teams play against one another to “practice” before the regular season. During two preseason games, Kaepernick actually sat on the bench during the national anthem, effectively starting his silent and peaceful protest of racial oppression. This protest went largely unnoticed.
August 26, 2016 - preseason game: Kaepernick becomes the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality toward people of colour. He explains to an NFL interviewer that he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” His goal was to use his platform as a professional athlete to spread the word about the injustices occurring in the US. At this time, the NFL stated that although players are encouraged to stand for the national anthem, it is not required. You may be asking, why did he switch from sitting to kneeling? The answer: to show respect for the military. Remember that.
September 1, 2016 - preseason: Kaepernick isn’t alone in kneeling. He’s joined by his 49er teammate, Eric Reid. A few weeks later when the NFL season starts, eleven NFL players join Kaepernick's protests in Week 1.
End of 2016 season: Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers at the end of the 2016 season to become a free agent. Although he was/is a top-notch quarterback, he has STILL, three years later (!!!), not been signed with any other team.
Many believe he hasn’t been signed due to his protests. Kaepernick later sued the NFL (along with teammate Reid), claiming the owners colluded not to sign him, which was settled out of court in 2019. It remains unclear if the NFL admitted wrongdoing or how much money Reid, Kaepernick or others may have received.
Beginning of 2017 NFL season: Many brave players began to follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps and knelt during the national anthem. It’s v. important to note that this kneeling occurs both inside AND outside the NFL, in both men’s AND women’s professional leagues.
September 22, 2017: Turns out, President Trump didn’t like it one bit. He calls the movement “disrespecting the flag”, “disrespecting the military” (which, remember, was NOT Kaepernick’s point), “unpatriotic” and even asked for the “SOBs who were kneeling to be fired” at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. See for yourself here.
Trump was effectively trying to shift what #TakeAKnee was initially all about. It was never about disrespecting the country or the flag, it was about protesting social and racial injustice. Many people also think that Trump started focusing on football to distract from what he was up to politically (like, in his actual job). At the time he was under criticism for how he was handling relations with North Korea and Russia.
September 23, 2017: It’s standard for all professional North American sports team champions (at least for the men) to get invited to the White House. We’re jumping to the NBA for a hot second, so stay with us. The 2017 NBA champs were the Golden State Warriors. Given everything Trump had said literally the day prior, Warriors star Steph Curry said “no thanks” to Trump’s invitation. And Trump’s response? Well, being the person that he is, he tweeted about it and “uninvited” Curry from the White House. SMDH. Read more here.
September 24, 2017: Back to football. The Sunday following Trump’s claim that football players should be fired for kneeling, the majority of teams, including owners, coaches and managers, kneeled or linked arms during the national anthem to stand together in solidarity. Hard to say if this solidarity was really against Trump calling their players SOBs, or if it was because they were kneeling for the true purpose of the protest — racial inequality.
September 24, 2017: Yep. We’re talking about the same day here. Trump calls for all fans to BOYCOTT THE NFL and to stop watching and attending football games until all personnel honour the flag and national anthem. Many players say “boy, bye” and continue to kneel.
November 2017: Kaepernick wins countless awards, including GQ Citizen of the Year, 2nd runner up to the creator of the #MeToo campaign for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and the Muhammad Ali Legacy award, which is given to athletes whose careers have directly or indirectly impacted the world. Our fave Beyonce presented that one to him.
April 2018: It finally, FINALLY, looked like Kaepernick was gonna be back on the NFL scene as the the Seattle Seahawks showed interest and offered him a tryout. This squad is well known to be pretty progressive, so we were surprised when they apparently postponed their visit with Kaepernick after he said he wouldn't stop kneeling during the national anthem. Ugh.
April 2018: The accolades just keep on coming in for Kaepernick after he received Amnesty International’s top honour — the Ambassador of Conscience Award. The award celebrates individuals and groups who speak out for justice. Prior winners include heroes like Malala Youzsafzai and Nelson Mandela. Talk about amazing company.
May 23, 2018: The NFL passed a resolution that requires all athletes and team personnel to either stand during the national anthem or to remain in their locker room. If they kneel, they will be fined. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell succumbed to the pressure (*cough* from Donald Trump *cough*) to pass this new rule.
Goodell made it seem like all NFL owners were on board but straight up, this is not the case. The San Francisco 49ers owner didn't vote, the NY Jets owner said he would pay for the players' fines and the NFL Players Union wasn't even consulted in this decision. Not cool. This further punctuated the disconnect between the NFL front office (the business people) and the players.
June 4, 2018: Trump uninvites the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from the White House. Why? Some players weren’t planning to attend because of their disagreements with the President and his views on the #TakeAKnee protest. BUT here’s the thing, the Eagles stood for the national anthem every single game last year, so Donald Trump uninviting them based on their ‘disrespect’ for the national anthem is simply ludicrous, especially because the #TakeAKnee movement was never about disrespecting the flag in the first place.
Instead, Trump hosted a “fan rally” for all Eagles fans at the White House. At the rally, two men continued to kneel during the national anthem and Trump, a “very patriotic guy” forgot the words to God Bless America.
August 2018: EA Sports comes under major fire after Kaepernick's name was edited out of the song “Big Bank”, which is featured on the video game “Madden NFL ‘19”. EA Sports released an official statement on Twitter saying it was a misunderstanding because EA doesn’t have the rights to include Kaepernick as a player in the game, and they wrongly assumed those rights affect the soundtracks.
But… we’re calling BS. Big Sean, the artist of the track, Tweeted to say that he did not okay the removal of Kaepernick’s name and that he was disappointed and appalled by NFL and EA Sports’ decision. All of this just sounded fishy AF to us. EA later corrected the “mistake” for a different game launch date.
August 31, 2018: A small victory for Kaepernick at last! Kaepernick's allegation that the NFL colluded to deny him a contract as punishment for his lead role in the #TakeAKnee protests received a formal hearing. This formal hearing was granted after an arbitrator denied the league’s request for a summary judgement (in an attempt to waive the case).
September 3, 2018: Kaepernick is introduced as the face of Nike's 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" campaign. ALL. THE. YES.
Since 2019, Kaepernick has settled out of court with the NFL (as previously mentioned) though it’s not known whether the league admitted to any wrongdoing. He remains an avid activist in the fight against police brutality and racial inequality — and also remains without an NFL contract. It’s been over three years since Kaepernick first protested against systemic oppression.
Our views on the bottom line: sports are meant to unite, not divide. Sports are one of the only things that have a magical ability to bring people together regardless of their age, race, gender, religion, etc.
It’s incredibly frustrating to see a divisive leader try to take away the pureness and passion of sport, and the people that support it. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a leader twist the message of a protest. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a leader use his power to effectively take away athletes’ freedom of speech when he doesn’t like what they’re speaking about.
#TakeAKnee is bigger than the game of football — it’s always going to be bigger than the game. There is still a massive problem in North America regarding police violence toward people of colour. The stats don’t lie and we hope that athletes and celebrities alike continue to use their platform to highlight and call out the systemic injustices people of colour continue to face.
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