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A Better Way for Athletes to Protest That Will Bring Cheers, Not Smears

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San Francisco 49ers National Anthem Kneeling
San Francisco 49ers National Anthem Kneeling
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, Author: Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA)
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First protest, and then take back the flag and national anthem.

Athletes who are protesting racism in America are on the defensive. By not standing for the national anthem they have aroused public outrage. Unfortunately, the heightened emotions have pushed their legitimate message to the background.

That could change with a more effective way for players to protest--a way that would generate a broader debate about the grim turn that America has taken under the Trump administration. It would also throw the ball back into the court of those who are attacking athletes--and would bring the vital issues to center stage.

In "taking the knee" and not joining in singing the national anthem, players have been condemned for anti-Americanism--the rejection of flag and country. President Trump has fueled the furor by declaring--in his usual statesmanlike style--that if an athlete takes the knee, the managers should "Get that son of a b*tch off the field;" he added that protesters "maybe shouldn't be in the country." He has also advised fans to leave the stadium if players kneel.

Now athletes face serious threats of sanctions if they continue to express their First Amendment rights.

In a new policy, the National Football League (NFL) will allow players to remain in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem. But if a player takes the field and kneels in protest the team will be fined--and the team can also fine the player.

There's more reason for athletes to worry,

In 2016 Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was first and alone in refusing to stand for the national anthem. He said: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," As part of the restructuring of his contract Kaepernick became a free agent in March 2017. Despite an excellent record, no team has signed him leading many to believe he is being blackballed. This is supported by the stark fact that 50 quarterbacks have been signed since Kaepernick became a free agent.

Sadly, the players' method of protest has invited charges of disloyalty and lack of patriotism--when that is far from their intent.

In fact, rather than rejecting America, athletes--particularly African American ones--are protesting ugly trends and actions that oppress African Americans and discriminate against other minorities, the poor and immigrants--often encouraged by policies initiated by the Trump administration.

Momentum is building as other groups join athletes in professional and college sports in protesting these attacks on the democratic principles of social justice, diversity, inclusion, and compassion--the principles that have made America great and which are now losing traction.

But "taking the knee" and remaining silent during the national anthem expresses only one side of their protest--the rejection of America's slide away from democracy. The missing other side could silence the critics and deliver a compelling message.

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Bernard Starr, PhD, is author of The Crucifixion of Truth, a drama set in 16th century Italy and Spain. Starr is a psychologist, journalist, and professor emeritus at CUNY, Brooklyn College. At Brooklyn College Starr taught developmental (more...)

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