Calvin College Chimes

Opinion: Go ahead, take a knee

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Due to presidential tweets and extensive media coverage, there has been a renewed interest in the debate of whether or not players in the NFL should be allowed to kneel as a sign of protest during the national anthem. This issue had largely fallen under the radar until the president brought it to the surface again, publicly denigrating the players and suggesting that they should be fired. This action caused a sizable number of NFL players and, for the first time, coaches and owners to participate in large scale protests during the pre-game national anthem.

Fierce debates have followed regarding what it means to respect the flag, what the role of players is and what constitutes an acceptable form of protest. The supposed main complaint is that these players are not respecting our flag or our soldiers and veterans. This argument has little to stand on. For one, kneeling has historically been a sign of great respect shown to rulers and even to God. Surely it is not the case that those who kneel before God in prayer are disrespecting him? Secondly, there have been countless anecdotes of veterans who are on both sides of this issue. This lack of consensus makes using the military little more than a rhetorical trump card to advance one’s own response to these protests.

The real issue that many white Americans had was not about the flag, but about black players daring to use their voice. This sentiment was clear in many of the arguments which stated how they should be “grateful to a country which pays them millions of dollars,” and that they ought to “keep politics out of football.” These are not arguments about a flag, but about the right of a people to speak. Many articles and opinions that I came across stated how there was a peaceful coexistence between player and fan which was disrupted by these protests, that these black players had violated their societal contract by daring to speak out. The implication is obvious: we pay you to play, not to have a voice.

The Huffington Post reports that about 70 percent of NFL players are black. However, about 80 percent of NFL fans are white. There has not been any peaceful coexistence between these two groups; there has been silencing. White fans were comfortable sitting in the stands and watching the mostly black players fight hard on the field and then say nothing outside of it. We are willing to tolerate domestic abuse, animal abuse, violent outbursts and even the personal injury of these players — but speaking their mind is too far.

So, at a time when black children and adults were being killed and jailed by police at a rate far higher than that of the rest of the population, Colin Kaepernick chose to stop playing by the rules. He broke the contract of silence and got attention in one way he knew he could. Now as many more join him in silent protest of a country unwilling to face the deep ills of racism, bigotry and government-endorsed violence, millions of Americans tell him to stand down. We want our athletes to entertain, not to disrupt our status quo.

Complacency is a gift of privilege. I am not directly affected by mass incarceration or the militarization of the police force and I can therefore afford to be complacent. But complacency is the opposite of the gospel; it is the opposite of Christ. We are called to be a people who stand radically against the systems of injustice and stand with those who are hurting and oppressed, all the while working to restructure sinful systems which denigrate and insult the worth of every human being. 

The Calvin community tends to lean towards complacency, promoting an acceptance of the status quo and a distaste for unrest.  We do this all in the name of love, of assuming the good in others. This posture of complacency is the antithesis of Christ’s love, a love that turned over tables and shredded conventional wisdom. As true agents of Christ in this world, we must be willing to stand against racism and injustice, even if that means setting ourselves against the powers that be in our school, our city and our nation. The United States is not infallible; God’s love is.

This is not about a flag. This is not about respect for your country or its veterans. This is about justice. To be complacent in the face of injustice is to be complicit. So take a knee.


3 Responses to “Opinion: Go ahead, take a knee”

  1. Renee Gerhart on October 12th, 2017 4:02 pm

    Deeply disappointed to see the Calvin student :”voice” take this position.
    Yes, we are not to be complacent. But there is a time and a place:
    during professional hours, at your place of business, in front of paying customers, is not it.
    Is it acceptable or airline pilots, store cashiers, or bank tellers to inform me, a customer, of their social, political
    or spiritual views while on the job?

    Furthermore, if the African-American NFL players were so concerned about racial injustice,
    why accept a paycheck from an employers they consider racist, and whose labor force
    (i.e.. the players) does not represent diversity in any way/shape/form. Maybe professional sports
    teams be subject to affirmative action. Simply put, the NFL is the ultimate plantation system.

    Finally, and shame on you, please check the facts! Black children and adults are NOT killed/jailed by police at “a far
    higher rate than the rest of the population” (see research by Heather McDonald of the Manhattan Institute in City Journal). Do you seriously consider the Huffington Post a reliable, unbiased information source?? Where is the critical thinking and analysis that we should expect of Calvin upperclassmen.

    Renee Gerhart
    a concerned Calvin parent


  2. Amy Hiebel on October 15th, 2017 12:27 pm

    So incredibly happy to see this wonderful response to this “controversy”. I couldn’t agree with you more!!!! I wish there were “love” buttons for this article!


  3. Dennis Holtrop on October 25th, 2017 7:20 pm

    I’m REALLY happy that while I was a student at Calvin, my parents were sufficiently busy with their careers, volunteer opportunities, artistic interests, travel, church activities, friends and other family members that they did not feel the need to submit “concerned” commentary to the Chimes (which would have involved the submission of a “letter to the editor” at that time).

    Ms. Gerhart claims to be “[d]eeply disappointed to see the Calvin student :”voice” take this position.” She should be aware that the Chimes and its individual writers are A voice of Calvin College, but certainly not THE voice.

    Perhaps this will mitigate her concern(s), but I somehow doubt that…


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