Just in time for the start of the NFL football season with preseason in August, 2018, the issue of the players’ kneeling during the national anthem begins a new again. Recently, the Miami Dolphins owners stated that the team intends to punish players who kneel or otherwise protest during the national anthem with up to a four game suspension and fines, according to documents obtained by USA Today. However, the team owner later retracted the statement and proposed plans for suspension or penalties. The local media covered the Dolphins intentions before there was the retraction.
Meanwhile the New York jets took the opposite approach by emphatically stating the opposite of no intention to fine players for their right to peaceful protest under the First Amendment. Previously, the NFL intended to institute a policy of sanctions and requiring that players stand for the anthem—before the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) filed a grievance. The filing of the grievance resulted in the NFL putting on hold any policy against players’ protesting the treatment of Blacks killed by police.
The whole controversy is mistakenly centered around the anthem, kneeling and patriotism—when the real issue is protest of police brutality of Blacks. The kneeling protest began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to protest the mistreatment of Blacks by the police and our failed criminal justice system. It sparked a fire storm that resulted in the misinterpretation by many persons, including Donald Trump, of the protests being about lack of patriotism. And Trump’s criticisms helped to fuel the negativity surrounding the protest
The purpose of the protests is to bring attention to the injustices inherent in the criminal justice system and mistreatment of Blacks. Kaepernick stated in 2016 that he’s “not anti-American”. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.”
Last week Donald Trump insisted to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that fines must occur for players, mostly African Americans, who conduct peaceful protests. One would think that Trump has more important things to be concerned about other than taking away constitutional rights away from NFL players.
There is nothing inherently illegal, unpatriotic or morally wrong with the NFL players’ protests. Ironically, Donald Trump, who complains loudly about lack of patriotism by Colin Kaepernick, met in private behind closed doors with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump placed full trust and confidence in Putin’s denials concerning Russian interference with our 2016 election over that of the findings of our U.S. intelligence community. Trump attacks the press, our allies, our intelligence community, the First Amendment, to name a few. Trump defends and supports Neo-Nazi’s who kill innocent persons, rogue dictators who kill and torture their people including Kim Jong- Un and Vladimir Putin. Trump even considers turning over a citizen and former U. S. ambassador to Putin for questioning. Do Trump’s actions appear as being patriotic?
Trump’s Foundation was recently sued by the N.Y. Attorney General who alleges that the Trump Foundation, instead of paying chartible organizations paid itself. The lawsuit alleges the Trump Foundation was used as a checkbook for payments to benefit Mr. Trump. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick, who has been without an NFL job for over a year, has paid over $800,000 to charitable organizations, since the kneeling controversy began.
The NFL players who are protesting mistreatment of Blacks in the criminal justice system and seeking change to a failed system are real patriots. Challenging the lack of liberties and justice for all Americans does not make one unpatriotic. Through kneeling to the anthem, these players’ protests intend to bring attention to a system that has systemically denied criminal justice rights to African Americans and other persons of color—going back for centuries. And hopefully, one day a change will occur with patriotic efforts to make America live up to her pledge of – “with liberty and justice for all”.
Real patriots try to help make America better for all. Thanks Colin Kaepernick for your patriotism.
Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and legal commentator on multiple media outlets.