Support the protest against the national anthem

The NFL, the kneeling against racism and Donald Trump

The debate is currently tearing the USA apart: The discussion about football players who do not stand when the US national anthem is played before the game, but kneel - in English "take a knee". It all started last year with Colin Kaepernick. He was then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, a team in the professional football league National Football League (NFL). He chose not to get up during the anthem to protest police violence against African Americans. Many athletes have since followed his example.

Now US President Donald Trump has interfered with an explosive comment. He has turned the simmering debate over Kaepernick and other publicly protesting NFL players into a national bone of contention.

"Ironically, President Trump has done one thing above all: that significantly more black athletes have now joined the protest movement because he said something so outrageous," explains Theresa Runstedtler, professor of African-American history at the American University in Washington, D.C.

Solidarity athletes

What Runstedtler calls "outrageous" is Trump's remark at a Republican meeting in Alabama. "Wouldn't you like to see," asked Trump, "that the owner of an NFL team would say if someone despises our flag: Take the son of a bitch out of the game! Now! He's fired!"

The president went on to claim that the football players involved would then stop doing this and urged spectators to leave the stadium if players kneeled down during the anthem. Trump's attempt to stifle the peaceful protests did not go down well with many players, team owners, celebrities and the general public. As a result, more and more NFL players kneeled during the anthem and many owners agreed with them. The wave of solidarity was also supported by basketball legend Bill Russell and famous civil rights activist John Lewis. They posted pictures on Twitter showing them kneeling, "taking a knee". John Lewis chose a historic civil rights photo photo.

On Tuesday, Trump went one better and tweeted: "The NFL has all kinds of rules and regulations. The only solution for them is that they pass a rule that you can't kneel during our national anthem!"

Divided society

Trump's recent comments have not helped bridge the already deep rifts in the country. According to a poll by NBC television, Americans are divided over kneeling football players and Trump's treatment of them. 52 percent of those questioned reject the "take a knee" protests, only 38 percent support them. However, 48 percent of the interviewees also disapprove of Trump's comments, while 38 percent approve them.

"It shows us that we have an incredibly divided country and that many whites identify completely when Trump makes such provocative remarks about ethnic minorities, in this case about African Americans," said Mark Naison, professor of African American studies at Fordham University in New York City and former political activist.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Black Power in Mexico City

    The image of the two American 200-meter runners Tommie Smith (2nd from right) and John Carlos (right) has become an icon. At the award ceremony of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, they raise their fists in black gloves, the symbol of the Black Power movement, which campaigns for the political and economic independence of the black population.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    "No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger!"

    The Nation of Islam, of which US civil rights activist Malcolm X (left) is a member, is also closely linked to Black Power. A prominent member of the "Black Muslims" is boxing world champion Cassius Clay alias Muhammad Ali (r.) In 1964. In 1967 Ali refused military service because he did not want to be sent to the Vietnam War. He then loses his world title and his boxing license.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Resistance on your knees

    In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick did not stand up for the US national anthem, which is played before every game. On the contrary: the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers knelt down in protest against racism and police violence against black people. The scandal broke out, fueled by tweets from US presidential candidate Trump. In the new season Kaepernick did not get a new contract.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Broad support

    Since Kaepernick's first kneeling down, many have followed his example. Also in the recently launched new NFL season, players and officials kneel by the anthem. US President Trump continues to comment on the behavior on Twitter - sometimes garnished with wild insults. Among other things, this prompted a response from basketball player LeBron James: "Our president is an asshole!"

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    A symbol of tyranny

    Years before Colin Kaepernick refused to respect the US anthem, NBA basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf did not want to get up when "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played in the hall. The reason: the devout Muslim saw the US flag as a symbol of tyranny. So getting up is contrary to his belief. He was banned briefly and from then on always prayed when the hymn played.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Black life matters

    After the acquittal of a white American who shot the black teenager Trayvon Martin, the "Black Lives Matter" movement emerged in 2013. Among other things, basketball superstar LeBron James was there. In 2014 he wore a t-shirt that said "I Can’ Breathe ". Those were the last words of Eric Garner, a black man who was suffocated in the stranglehold of a white policeman.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Equal opportunities for everyone

    Six years before the Australian runner Cathy Freeman becomes a national heroine at the Olympics in Sydney, she turns sections of the conservative population against her. In 1994 at the Commonwealth Games, Freeman, himself an Aboriginal, goes on the lap of honor with the flag of the Australian Aborigines. She wants to draw attention to the disadvantage of her ethnic group in society.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Victim of politics

    Had he been allowed to start, he would have won at least one medal, maybe even Olympic gold. But since the western world boycotted the Olympic Games in 1980 after Russia invaded Afghanistan, the German decathlete Guido Kratschmer can only watch in Moscow. Four years later, the Eastern Bloc is returning the favor with its boycott of the Los Angeles Games.

  • Sports protests: bent knee, raised fist

    Against exclusion and oppression

    When Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finish line in second place at the Olympic marathon in Rio, he raised his crossed arms, his hands clenched into fists. With this gesture, the Ethiopian wants to point out the injustice that is happening to the Oromo tribe in their homeland. Although they are the largest ethnic group in the country, they have little political influence. Protests are violently suppressed.


Why did Trump even get involved in the debate? Both Naison and Runstedtler believe that after the failed health care reform and criticism of his dealings with storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, he wanted to rally his supporters behind him. "How do you rally your voters when you've just failed like this?" asks Naison. "One possibility is to appeal to racist resentment. Only with them did he win the election in the first place." Runstedtler adds: "He struck a chord with his conservative fans who watch football and probably disagree when Colin Kaepernick and other black athletes stand up against police violence and structural racism in the USA."

Wants to hide the debate: Football fan Jack Milne

Massive misunderstanding

At the Blaguard sports pub in Washington, D.C., Jack Milne, a 70-year-old retired IT specialist, says he was trying to block out all of this controversy. The kneeling players didn't bother him either, because "people always protest against something". When he remembers Trump: "In the past, presidents only talked about politics."

Alex Makrs is 30 years old, works at Blaguard and has a season ticket for the Washington Redskins NFL team. He says clearly: "That was not an issue at all before Trump made it one." Makrs was working behind the counter when the entire Redskins team got hooked and several players knelt during the national anthem. The silent protest didn't annoy him at all, he says. "What bothered me a lot more were the boos in the stadium. Most of them didn't even know why they were booing," he believes. It's not about the US flag, it's about racism.

Clear up misunderstandings: bartender Alex Makrs

Makrs also points out a common misunderstanding: There is absolutely no old tradition of NFL players on the field during the national anthem - this is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, until 2009, the team stayed in the dressing room until the game started. Since then, the Department of Defense has paid the NFL to have the anthem played - team members are required to be present, but not required by regulations to stand.

Paid patriotism

Many critics complain that such a patriotic show does not fit in a professional sports stadium. It's tough business for the NFL. Two years ago, Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake published a scathing 150-page report entitled "Addressing Paid Patriotism." In it, they show that the Pentagon is paying the NFL and other professional sports associations in the United States millions of dollars to honor members of the army during the games, for example by flying overhead military jets. The NFL then promised last year to return the taxpayers' money received for this.

Make a mark by hooking instead of kneeling during the national anthem: The Green Bay Packers before their game against the Chicago Bears on Thursday in Green Bay, Wisconsin

And the "Take a knee" controversy has revealed another misconception, emphasize the scientists Runstedtler and Naison: namely that sport and politics should be separated. "Sport reflects the society in which it takes place," explains Runstedtler. "Sport is overloaded with how we deal with ethnic minorities. And that was also the case before Trump. Playing the national anthem at a sporting event is already a political process."

"Sport reflects the social and economic divisions in our society and creates a spectacle that encourages us to forget," said Naison. But the trenches that are now visible were not created by the players, adds Runstedtler. That already shows the fact that almost all NFL team owners are white, but the majority of the players are African American. "And just because they are athletes, they don't have to give up their civil rights at the entrance."