When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem over the summer, he stirred an immense amount of controversy. What was so unsettling to me about it, however, was how so many of his fellow NFL players and coaches (Jeff Fisher can go to hell) not only spoke out against Kaepernick but discouraged other players from joining him in solidarity. It wasn’t just expressing a different opinion, it was trying to shut down the opinions of others down.
I loved Lord Castleton’s piece on Kneelgate, because he saw it from both perspectives. Kaepernick has every right to protest, and others who have different beliefs have every right to disagree with Kaepernick’s decision. Where it gets problematic, however, is when either side tries to prevent the other from freely protesting, because the act of protesting itself is as American as you can get.
That’s why I appreciate this story out of Arkansas so much.
During the National Anthem last night, the women’s basketball team took a knee to protest police brutality. As one of the basketball players noted in the press conference afterwards, “We love being Lady Razorbacks. We love our fanbase, and we didn’t mean any disrespect by it. We just feel like a lot of things in society need to change, and one thing is police brutality. People of color are being attacked, and we wanted to speak out.”
This is not a protest one would imagine would go over well in Arkansas. In fact, the coach of the Lady Razorbacks, Jimmy Dykes, does not necessarily share their views, but — and this is what’s important — he had their back anyway.
“We as a staff are extremely proud of our young ladies. They have strong, well-educated opinions, based on their real-life experiences. I’m very proud of them. I have their back, because we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. They know where I stand and it’s very different than some of my beliefs. They came together for a cause and had different stances, but end of the day, they’re all Razorbacks. … A lot of people are very disappointed in me right now, but my players aren’t.”
Even in the University itself had their backs.
In this country, we value everyone’s right to voice their opinions and views. University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized. We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation. We will continue to encourage our student-athletes to engage in constructive conversations with their peers, coaches, support staff and administrators to raise awareness of varying backgrounds and life experiences and to develop understanding among conflicting points of view.
Take note, Roger Goodell and the NFL. The correct response is to listen, to value their experiences, and support their right to express their opinion, whether it’s one you agree with or not.