Several NFL players throughout the league have knelt in protest during the national anthem this season in response to President Donald Trump’s public remarks against the movement. Trump’s comments have since created room for debate regarding players’ rights to express their political beliefs on a national platform.
Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, originally started the kneeling movement in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Supporters of Kaepernick have since hailed him as a hero, while his critics see him as a symbol of disrespect as he continued to kneel throughout the 2016 season.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of those NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’” Trump said at a rally for Republican Sen. Luther Strange Sept. 22 in Alabama.
The president then called on NFL spectators to counter-protest future games by leaving the stadium if they see a player kneeling during the anthem.
The president’s comments sparked an immediate response from NFL players as many knelt in solidarity during the national anthem in the games that followed. Those who did not kneel during the anthem stood and linked arms with fellow players as they knelt in silence, to support the player’s freedom of speech.
Though Texas State football players are not on the field during the national anthem due to kickoff timing and last minute instructions from coaching staff, the debate over the right to express political beliefs during the anthem is still a contentious topic on college campuses.
Everett Withers, Texas State’s head football coach, shared his views on the issue.
“I do believe in First Amendment rights,” Withers said. “Disrespect is seen differently. I stand and place my right hand over my heart during the national anthem. Is it disrespectful when people don’t? (It’s) different for each individual.”
Supporters of the movement believe players are well within their constitutional rights to express their political beliefs, almost deeming the act as patriotic. Others believe kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful to military members and those who have died in the line of duty.
Adrian Cooper, biology junior and vice president of the Texas State College Republicans chapter, said he personally believes the act of kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful, but players are still entitled to express political views under the First Amendment.
“As far as the First Amendment goes, the NFL players have a constitutional right to do what they’re doing,” Cooper said. “Personally, I think politics should be left out of football.”
In response to criticism surrounding the players, many veterans have taken to social media to express their beliefs.
Alejandro Cuevas, philosophy graduate student, said the topic of protest during the anthem is a divisive topic even among his veteran friends. Cuevas served in the Marines.
“As a veteran, I look at it as those are the beliefs that I thought I was protecting,” Cuevas said. “I don’t feel that it’s disrespectful. I think it’s an empowerment that makes this country great, that you have the opportunity to voice your opinion and say ‘hey, I’m against what the government is doing.’ Now it doesn’t mean that may I agree with what they’re saying and how they’re doing it, but I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
Although the issue was blown over in the media due to the Secretary Tom Price resigning from Health and Human Services Department and Trump’s tweets to Sen. Bob Corker, Vice President Mike Pence left a Colts football game on Sunday, Oct. 8.
Trump has alluded to NFL owners making decisions against kneeling, however as of now there hasn’t been any team that has come out with a policy against kneeling.