Kneeling at George Floyd Protests Recalls the Colin Kaepernick Controversy

Kneeling at George Floyd Protests Recalls the Colin Kaepernick Controversy

Kneeling at George Floyd Protests Recalls the Colin Kaepernick Controversy

Kneeling at George Floyd Protests Recalls the Colin Kaepernick Controversy

“Kneeling is both an act of defiance and resistance, but also of reverence, of mourning, but also honoring lives lost,” said Chad Williams, the chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University. “It is also simple and clear. Its simplicity gave it symbolic power, and as we see now, its power persists.”

So does the controversy surrounding it.

Starting in 2016, despite Kaepernick’s explanation that his kneeling during the national anthem was a call to end racial injustice and police brutality toward people of color, a backlash fomented, spurred largely by President Trump, who tried to recast Kaepernick and the predominantly African-American group of players who followed his lead as unpatriotic. That viewpoint persists, expressed this week by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who publicly apologized after saying in an interview that he views taking a knee during the anthem as an insult to the country.

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said, linking such defiance to condemnation of the military.

Taking a knee might be a simple gesture, but the fraught, contentious opinions about it are a mirror into the complexity of race in America.

Consider its N.F.L. origin story.

Kaepernick and Reid came up with the idea after consulting a former Green Beret, Nate Boyer, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan before playing college football at Texas and then getting a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks. “Colin straight up asked me what I thought he should do,” said Boyer, speaking recently over the phone from Oregon.

Boyer said he did some research and came across a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. kneeling in prayer and protest in Selma, Ala. during the 1960s. Boyer also remembered taking a knee at Arlington National Cemetery, in reverence of fallen friends.


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