I was in high school when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling.
In my rural hometown, everyone began talking about it and from there, the racist jokes began — comments about Kaepernick’s football career, his name and his hair. Classmates babbled comments back and forth between classes and rolled their eyes when the current event was brought up in civics class.
Some of my classmates weren’t joking though; they were angry. Instead of laughing, they talked stone-faced about striking Kaepernick’s knees with a bat. They called him all sorts of names, though not the one that would get them suspended. They pondered ways to kill him. For a small amount of time, I was almost certain that a small army of 15-year-olds would’ve killed that man if given the chance.
For me, the kneeling debate has never been about First Amendment rights or the role of celebrities in politics. Instead, from the very beginning, hatred and violence has overwhelmed my perception of the issue, spewed from the mouths of strangers, sure, but also from peers, community members and loved ones.
Last week, this hatred came to my university. During a Husker volleyball match on Nov. 12, several opposing players from Maryland took a knee. As the anthem was poised to play, several Nebraska fans began to shout. “Trash,” someone called them. “Stand up, you piece of trash.” Players from the Husker team and head coach John Cook apologized afterwards, but the incident had already stirred the kneeling debate to life once more.
The disruptive outburst from several Nebraska fans during the Maryland game proves that respect has never been part of the equation. Those who jeer and admonish kneeling during the national anthem only prove that generating hatred toward others is more important than their own patriotism.
First off, this is a hot button issue. It dives into a whole world of passion and controversy. I understand that. I also understand that in issues of controversy, it’s rather easy for critics to dismiss opinions as shortsighted, uninformed and biased.
It’s true, as a left-leaning young person, I do have personal bias, and I’m willing to say that up front. I believe that the silent and peaceful nature of kneeling protests during the national anthem allows its participants to draw attention to an important and systemic issue facing our country without being disruptive or disrespectful.
However, like every person in this country and on this planet, my bias is complex. From my rural Nebraskan, Republican roots, I was taught to treat the American flag and the national anthem with respect. My patriotism is also a part of my political identity and it’s an important part of who I am.
I do not want to talk about the act of kneeling itself. I have no argument there to share, nor will any argument I do present actually be productive. Instead, I want to talk about the reactions and counterprotests of those who claim to protect the sanctity of the national anthem but instead tarnish it further.
A common critique of the kneeling moment is that it’s disrespectful. However, far too often, the peace and silence of kneeling is met with disruption from counter protestors. In 2017, NFL fans burned merchandise in counterprotest of Kaepernick’s actions, many destroying hundreds of dollars of their own possessions. Just a few weeks ago, a high school football team in Michigan weathered vulgar language by an opposing student spectator as the team kneeled for the anthem. And now, disruption has also come to Devaney Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
To be honest, it makes sense that this issue would find its way to Nebraska. According to the US Census Bureau, the state of Nebraska is 88% white, ranking 10th in the running for the whitest states in the country. However, when pulling apart the state into counties, an even bigger gap emerges between rural and urban areas.
In 2015, a vast majority of Black Nebraskans lived in cities like Lincoln and Omaha. In fact, a handful of western counties didn’t report a single Black person living in the area. In other words, many Nebraskans may live in a community where white is the default and the norm.
Now, this doesn't necessarily breed hatred. I genuinely believe many rural Nebraskans are kind people with open hearts, people with the worldly knowledge and homegrown empathy to welcome and recognize those of different races. But sometimes, hatred begins to bubble from the ignorance and fear that emerges in the shadow of racial hegemony.
I imagine it’s these people who become self-appointed anthem crusaders, willing to cross any line of personal dignity to put Black protesters in their place. These are people emboldened by their own patriotism to cause destruction. They are people who would rather light their jerseys on fire than sell them; people who would rather insult teenagers than have a conversation with their parents. As the group who prides themselves on their civility, their methods turn so easily to hostility. These people claim to respect the anthem of our country but rip through its melody with hate speech.
If opponents to the kneeling movement ever want to gain recognition and credibility, they must cease the tirade of hatred. The self-righteousness of disrupting and interrupting the national anthem to call out a silent and peaceful protest is quite unfathomable to me, as I’m sure it is for many liberal patriots like myself. The pride and mock bravery illustrate a single, stark concept in my mind — hypocrisy.
Show some respect. That’s the solution to those who taunt and jeer the solidarity of kneeling athletes. Find another time and another place to air your anger into the world.
I think often about the anger and hatred of my young classmates, and I think about how that white anger has existed for centuries, hopping between bodies and ideas. It exists in the white crowd that followed a young Ruby Bridges to school everyday. It exists in scorched lawns and burned crosses. It exists in mewling parents who equate Critical Race Theory to the fall of man.
So perhaps my call to civility is a suggestion. Perhaps it is a plea. But after years of watching hatred bubble into my own community, perhaps it is a warning.
Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.