MADISON, Wis. — It’s becoming a ubiquitous scene in the sports world; athletes kneeling or using other forms of protest during the playing of the National Anthem before sporting events.
The idea was reborn on Aug. 26 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand by sitting down during the Anthem before their preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick defended himself from the critics by pointing to the fact that many African-Americans have been facing racial injustices and he refuses to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
His supporters heard him loud and clear. Coach Mike McCarthy took the message back to Green Bay and said that while he’d personally prefer his players to stand for the Anthem, he said there needs to be open dialogue about the issues facing people of color.
NBA players don’t have a choice but to stand during the playing of the National Anthem due to a rule put in place by then-commissioner David Stern in 1996. The rule was in response to Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who didn’t participate in the pregame ceremony the previous season, instead either remaining in the locker room or stretching on the sidelines. His actions cost him almost $32,000 of his $2.6 million salary while he was suspended for one game.
The Milwaukee Bucks obeyed that rule in Monday night’s preseason win over the Chicago Bulls, standing in solidarity while still pointing to the racial issues plaguing the country. The team, as well as the entire coaching staff, stood in a line with their arm draped over the shoulder of the man next to him.
Forward Jabari Parker told media members after the game that it was important for the team to show support for the movement but to also be respectful.
“It just shows that through it all, thick and thin, you’ve got to have each other’s back,” Parker said. “Regardless of your skin color, regardless of your race or where you come from if you see something happening you’ve got to speak up, you’ve got to stand for change.
Bucks president Peter Feigin has been outspoken about diversity in recent weeks, telling the Rotary Club in Madison, Wis. that racism and segregation are a big component of what’s creating a divide in Milwaukee and that their construction of a new arena and entertainment district aims to bring togetherness through a common goal.
But it doesn’t end in Milwaukee.
University of Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes isn’t afraid to voice his opinion on controversial issues, joining a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to financially compensate student-athletes for their roles to the university. His Twitter account has also come to the forefront with his thoughts on racial inequality and racism.
Hayes’ coach, Greg Gard, supported his star player for his stance, while admitting it’s been a learning experience for him as well.
Even at the high school level players are taking part in the pregame protests. During Madison East’s Sept. 23 Homecoming game against Madison West, the entire team took a kneel prior to the game, while some coaching staff members did as well. That was met with some resistance, however, as one anonymous staff member responded to a text message with the response “No [I don’t care to comment]. And my players are off limits too, so don’t reach out to them. Direct all questions to the administration.”
Members of the community have taken action during this trying time. Madison West police officer Reggie Davis, who grew up on the city’s east side and dealt with racial issues of his own, took part in a gathering this weekend for “Madison’s Premiere Black Male Photo Shoot.” It was an event featuring several prominent black community members whose goal was to show they can be role models and should not be depicted as thugs.
Davis is a former semi-professional football player for the Madison Mustangs and Madison Wolves. He says although he recently retired, he is still supportive of his peers’ cause.
“I would have respected [my teammates] for expressing their right to protest,” Davis said in a direct message. “We all don’t have to agree with the approach of a protest but we can respect a person for standing up for what they believe in.”
There’s no denying racial inequality has once again become an important issue, but it’s the ability to speak freely about one’s stance that’s needed to make the necessary changes so that all made lead a better life.