Senior shares his thoughts on NFL national anthem controversy

I’m not black. I think it’s important to preface this column with that statement because a lot of the opinions that I might hold as an Indian boy growing up in a mainly white neighborhood are different from the feelings that are expressed by anyone that is black living in this country. I can only try and give my explanation of what they mean, and while I can relate to their pain in certain ways, the struggles that their race has had to go through in this country is not something I can ever say is comparable to what I’ve gone through in my life.

When it comes to the issue of kneeling during the anthem by National Football League players, it is important for people to understand first and foremost what it’s trying to achieve. There seems to be a variety of different takes on the issue, and that’s in part created some of the backlash to it. Is it an act of defiance against President Donald Trump? Is it in support of groups such as Black Lives Matter? Is it just a bunch of ungrateful, disrespectful, rich, entitled black people trying to take a stand for an issue that doesn’t affect them?

What struck me as the best explanation of why players are kneeling is a personal story posted by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.

Bennett went to the Mayweather-McGregor fight Aug. 26 and posted a tweet about two weeks later on Sept. 6 explaining his experience post-fight in the Cromwell Hotel & Casino. When police heard about a potential active shooter in the area, they attempted to evacuate it, and Bennett was one of the people who tried to run away. He claims that Las Vegas police singled him out and forced him to get on the ground and waved a gun in his face for being nothing more than “a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The powerful tweet continues on to describe how he felt “helpless” and him thinking that he was going to die “for no other reason than [he was] black and [his] skin color is somehow a threat.” It details how he was held in a cop car until they finally realized that he wasn’t just some random black guy in the hotel, but that he was Michael Bennett, a prominent football player and Super Bowl winner.

Reading his harrowing account is just a small example of a reality that many in the black community have to go through every day. It’s also a reminder that while you can take a man out of that situation and give him money, the prejudices against him never go away. If he hadn’t been recognized as a football player, there’s no knowing what the end result of that arrest may have been, and there’s no knowing if that story ever comes out. Las Vegas police have already denied this happened, but it can be hard at times to give police departments the benefit of the doubt when you hear about other cases of police brutality against people of color on a consistent basis.

Kneeling for these players isn’t about something political and trying to make a stand against Donald Trump. No matter how hard the president attempts to make this about him, it’s not. This is a peaceful protest — keyword here is peaceful — against a country that has not only oppressed their race in the past, but continues to do so through institutional injustices that those in power refuse to fix. This isn’t about the military and disrespecting veterans who served to protect their freedom. In fact, those same veterans fought to protect the chance for these players to even take a stand against those in power in the first place. If we claim to be fighting for a free country and then go out and crucify those that take a stand utilizing that power, what message are we sending out to the world?

This is a fight that NFL players have to fight because they have a platform to actually gain attention. And yes, this movement is gaining attention. When the president feels the need to respond and call these players “sons of bitches,” there is clearly a spotlight being shone on them. Does it create deeper divisions? Sure. At this time in our country, any kind of move towards equality is going to take a divisive turn. But this specific act of kneeling doesn’t have to polarize people.

The problem that we are running into as a country is a lack of empathy across the board. And it’s not something that’s easy to fix. For the white middle class, it’s never going to be possible to fully understand what it’s like for a black person to try and work their way up to the top and chase the “American Dream.” The same prejudice doesn’t exist even for whites in poverty. While it is true that mainstream media isn’t helping the cause by portraying blacks as victims more than others and often missing the entire point behind protests and activist groups, there needs to be a realization by everyone that what they believe in isn’t always the case for everyone.

So don’t make NFL players kneeling during the anthem about you. Or the president. Or the flag. Or democracy. Or anything that can be disrespected. When we start seeing this protest for what I believe it truly is, a kneel against an institution that has tried to hold back a race for centuries, then, and only then, will we finally be able to have a conversation and maybe actually achieve the change that these athletes are trying to create.