To Kneel Or Not To Kneel – Where Does Oregon And The Pacific Northwest Stand?

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Growing up with one parent passionate about sports and another one about politics, I have to say never in my life had I imagined the two worlds to collide the way they have in the last 10 months, especially in the last 72 hours since President Trump’s statement against NFL players exercising their right to protest.

The kneeling during the national anthem started in September 2016 when Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt during the national anthem before an exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers.

At said time, his actions were seen not only as disrespectful but anti-patriotic. The effect in the sport was for sure felt, fans were outraged, peers feeling they had to take a side and officials having to make decisions, even though no NFL rule had been broken or violated with any part of the action at hand.

For Kaepernick, the impact on his career continues to be seen. It landed him without a team (even though officials refuted that was the reason he had not been picked) and until this weekend, many of us had felt his future was further and further away than before and some had gone as far as saying he would never recover from it all.

But all that has for sure changed since Saturday. Not only have more NFL and college football players joined Kaepernick, but even NFL owners have taken a stand behind their players and their right to protest. NBA players and one MLB player joined as well. It seems to be that what was expected to result an ultimatum to the NFL given by President Trump, it has actually empowered a movement that a year ago many saw as a hopeless one.

The question many of us sitting in front of our television or at a stadium across the US was – Who is the next player or team to kneel down? What will our team do? But more important, where do I stand in all of this?

Historically protests in the field, arena or stadium are rare. Sports have always somehow managed to remain above politics, socio-economic circumstances or personal views and philosophies. In fact, sports have always been the one place where we can put differences apart and come together as one.

It is obvious that the country, in fact the world has changed, and sooner or later we would see the effects in sports as well. So to help answer the “who is next to kneel down?” for those in Oregon and our neighbors in Washington, here is a quick overview on what has happened in the past year when players and teams have exercised their right to express themselves and we can decide if that is indicative of what we can expect our teams stance to be.

On December 7, 2014, Oregon Ducks basketball players Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell held their hands up during the National Anthem at a game versus Mississippi. Benjamin and Bell decided to exercise their freedom of expression in protest of a federal grand jury’s decision not to indict police officers who had slain two African-American men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York.

The action did not go unnoticed, and it sparked a debate to the point that even their own coach, who told The Oregonian he wasn’t aware of Benjamin and Bell’s decision to protest had something to say, “I think every player has a right to express their opinion; however, I didn’t think that was the time and place for it,” Altman said. “On their own as individuals, they have that right. As part of our basketball team, when you put the Oregon jersey on, it’s a little different. So, I think there’s a time and place for everything. I don’t think that was the appropriate time.”

Said statement certainly reflected where the support or perhaps “lack of” Benjamin and Bell had within their team. While Altman did not dismiss their right to express themselves, he certainly made it clear it shouldn’t happen when they were wearing the Oregon jersey.

Two weeks later, Altman’s statement stood out a little bit more as it was a major contrast to that of Coach Joey Thomas, Garfield High School in Seattle, Wa. whose full football team knelt during the national anthem in a game versus West Seattle High on September 17, 2016.

Thomas shared with Sports Illustrated the following: “Everybody wants to talk about how this is disrespectful to the American flag,” Garfield coach Joey Thomas said. “That’s a smokescreen. How about we talk about the issues people are kneeling and fighting for? If we could start addressing the issues and finding solutions to the issues, we won’t have to kneel.”

The week before said game, West Seattle High (Garfield’s opponent) had some of its players kneel during the national anthem but with approval from the school’s administration. It isn’t hard to see especially again, in the last 24 hours the different responses athletes, organizations and officials are making or made even before President Trump’s open attack.

After all, the President’s statement did call for action, and prompted the need for the NFL to take a true stance, and as we can see the NFL is standing behind their players and their right to protest whether the President finds it okay or not.

This of course highlights how times have changed, how the US has changed! Sports have always been the one place where people come together no matter what. In fact is what makes sports so unique and empowering. Because it brings us together to a moment of high and positive energy above all.

However today the sports “friendly zone” is in the center of it all and I do not know about you, but I am very curious to see how many Oregon officials and athletes decide to take a stand and especially curious to know which side they will pick.

Will they stand up for those who want to protest and their right to play as they stood up for those who have found themselves in criminal activity or past convictions in high profile cases such as the OSU Helmich case? Or will they do the same thing Altman did when Benjamin and Bell exercised their right and make sure they are set apart?

The voice of one man has evolved into a significant movement, up until Monday night more than 200+ did not stand for the national anthem. Some teams, such as the Seattle Seahawks didn’t even come out to the field while the anthem was being sang. Even those given a rendition of the anthem itself during a few games knelt down or joined the protest.

As an Oregonian, a sports fanatic and a woman who loves this country and what it stands for, I believe that if we truly are a state where equality and civil rights are important, should any athlete or official make the decision to kneel down, not come out or lock arms during the national anthem, Oregon fans, athletes (high school, college or professional) including officials should stand and support them as they would any other.  However, whatever the decision athletes and officials across the country take, we must not forget their right to kneel or not to kneel is a very personal one. As for you and me, the fans: Will you and I stand behind them or not?

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About Author

Miriam has been watching her father root for his teams from the day she was born. It is from him that she learned the amazing world of sports. Miriam is a native of Mexico City, but after having lived for almost three decades in the USA she calls Portland home. She is the mother of two high schoolers and a kindergartener. A business development and marketing professional she loves photography and global cuisine. If she is not writing, in the kitchen or in the office, you can find her and her youngest at opening night where her two teens are part of their high school theater program or perhaps at a Tae Kwon Do match with her two teens rooting for the kindergartner in their life. She loves sports, writing and values the opportunity to reach OSN's readers every chance she can.

6 Comments

  1. Don’t open up a can of worms you can’t answer! If those over paid athletes can’t stand for the National Anthem. Then they should remain in the locker room until after it has been played, and the True Americans of this country have paid their respect to the Men and Women who have served and in many cases gave their life for this United States of America!
    Having personally served this Great Country! I’ll even take it one step further. I feel every athlete, citizen of United States of America or not. Should be required to stand for the National Anthem, or face termination for citizens and deportation for non-citizens playing in this country!

  2. I believe in the right for everyone to speak their own opinion and I love my DUCKS but don’t want to have to “think politics” when I go to an athletic event. There is so much negativity and protest in the media and in life that I go to these events to get away from all of that. As season ticket holders for 3 sports, I hope that I don’t have to choose between my DUCKS and my time. I will choose to put my money and time somewhere else if forced to do so.

  3. I to love my Ducks Pam I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1995. I would walk away in a minute should they choose to come out of the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem to kneel!
    My job requires that I talk with people all over the world and this great country every day. There are five of us in our office that perform the same task as myself. The author of this article is from Portland, let me just say this. When people discover that they have reached an office in Oregon they go off! We get on the average 15-20 calls a day with people telling us the state needs to get Portland under control they are not only a disgrace to the beautiful state of Oregon but to the entire country as well! Something needs to be done about reeling them in. Let me tell you some of these people get downright upset with what the state is allowing Portlanders to do.

  4. Just have to say, I know people, a large number of the players kneeling are buckling to peer pressure, big paychecks all and it’s easier to get along, the original protesters believe in what they are doing but are misguided, they are making things worse, I am white and have never really felt differently toward other races, after seeing the way people of color rant and rave, and whites don’t burn the city down when a black officer takes the life of a white, I question my beliefs, people pay good money to watch sports and shouldn’t have social and political views shoved down their throats, do it elsewhere, guess it’s just easier when your there anyway

  5. I am also a season ticket holder since 1995. If all the athletes do not come out of the locker room and stand for the National Anthem at the next game, I will burn this season’s tickets and not renew my basketball tickets.

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