On Sunday and Monday, in football games across the country, dozens of pro players knelt or locked arms during the singing of the national anthem. On three other teams, nearly all the players refused to take the field until the song was over.
The wave of defiance on the sidelines of the country’s most popular sport was fueled by a speech President Donald Trump gave on September 22. At a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, he called for the National Football League (NFL) to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
Trump was referring to football protests that started last year when Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began kneeling during the anthem. (See “Star Spangled Protest.”) Kaepernick said it was to draw attention to police brutality and racial injustice. (Kaepernick, a free agent, is not currently playing in the NFL.)
Until recently, just a handful of African American players had protested during the anthem this football season. After Trump’s Alabama speech, however, athletes nationwide joined in protesting the president’s words.
The issue of kneeling during the anthem has sparked intense debate—on and off the field. Advocates of free speech argue that professional athletes have the right to use their positions of influence to call attention to social issues that are important to them. But others say refusing to stand for the anthem disrespects the nation, the military, and the flag—and that sports is no place for such displays.