If you stand on a youth soccer sideline long enough, you are bound to hear a coach yell, “Take a knee!” Most often the directive is meant for a recently-injured-player who is trying to be brave and make one last heroic play, but whose limping attempt is not productive. Kneeling is necessary to protect the player and stop the game.
For young kids, when an injured player goes down, players on both teams also take a knee. The full-field gesture is not because any other player is hurt, but because they are respecting the player for whom the game has halted.
I was the sort of athlete who really didn’t like to have to kneel, either as the injured or as a mandate when another player was hurt. I did it when I was asked because I respected the game and those who played it. It was part of the arrangement for being part of a team. As I got older and players no longer knelt, I made it a point to touch the shoulder of the injured before gathering my teammates on the field.
Before anyone slams me for likening the current on-field kneeling to that of kneeling for an injury during a soccer game, hear me out.
My perspective, like every other American watching what’s happening on NFL sidelines with regard to kneeling, comes from a unique place. My perspective isn’t right, it’s personal. (I would argue that is the case with every single person who has an emotional opinion about what’s transpiring)
It’s been a tough few days: as a coach, as a once-upon-a-time-elite-athlete, as an American, as the daughter of a West Point grad and veteran, and granddaughter of two World War II vets. It’s been hard too as a middle-aged white woman who, as part of the pre-game protocol for the diverse boys’ high school soccer team I coach, to stand facing a flag for an anthem two to three times each week without thinking about those kneeling.
I’m left wondering what the right response to all of this should be and I’ve decided it’s too personal to dictate.
The kneeling posture is a physical statement while others are standing for the playing of our national anthem. Until this weekend, it had already been happening in small pockets in America and for personal reasons I have no business analyzing.
Kneeling during the anthem looks like injury to me.
There are plenty of hurting people in this country and the professional athletes who have taken a knee to draw attention to some of those hurts are taking the posture of an injured soul. Look at the recent team photos of anthems: some are kneeling, others stand with heads bowed and still others stand at attention with their eyes raised to the flag. The controversy exists because any expression that might be different than the way we each want to approach that flag could be seen as an affront to our personal feelings. The kneeling expression hurts those for whom standing with great reverence is their own personal attention to the hurts they carry too.
Every person has a right to their opinions and freedom exists in the expression of those opinions because we are Americans. Unfortunately, more and more these days we want everyone to think and express like we do. We want to express our own hurts without acknowledging the hurts of others. There seems to be little interest in even trying to understand the personal decisions other people make much less unpack what might be causing our reaction in the first place.
Every opinion is framed in personal experiences, the pasts we carry with us and the emotional realities that exist within us. Have you thought about why you feel the way you do about this?
Compounded in the controversy is the fact that teams had no choice but to respond to Trump’s statements because he inflicted new injury on the players and owners of the sports teams he chose to attack.
There are two responses I have seen, so far, that capture the essence of what might possibly be a way to engage in a productive and necessary dialogue.
The teams where one player knelt or sat and the other stood directly behind with a hand on his shoulder best illuminates acknowledgement of both postures being necessary. The standing player stands because he must and the kneeling player kneels because he must. They connect with each other, because they are teammates who respect what the other must do.
The Dallas Cowboys did it right too. They knelt as an entire organization in linked-arm solidarity, just prior to the start of the anthem. Then together they stood, interlocked, and remained standing as a group for the duration of the anthem. I am sure it took quite a bit of conversation to determine the group response. As a team they expressed acceptance of any hurts the members of their organization might be carrying while approaching the flag with respect and reverence.
They were booed by the Arizona Cardinal fans for this expression.
We are used to booing in a football stadium. For God’s sake, a majority of the fans show up each week to do just that. The thing is, this booing initially frustrated me. The more I think about it though the more I must acknowledge that booing is necessary for some people too. I would argue the angry response of booing to the sad posture of kneeling is simply another expression of hurt.
The hardest part of all of this is that America seems to have forgotten we are supposed to be on the same team. We’ve chosen which color on the flag defines us and which posture is right when we stand before it. We need to be better than this. We need to embrace the emotionally complex nature of this great country and every citizen who calls it home.
I continue to stand for the anthem, and I reverently look at the red stripes and the blue backdrop of the stars and, as I did as an athlete, I remember that I’m privileged to be in that moment. It doesn’t mean for one second I am not willing to walk beside someone kneeling in my vicinity to put my hand on a shoulder because I want the injured among us to know I see their pain and I am willing to stand up for them until they no longer feel too pained to stand themselves.
I recently read Waking up White by Debby Irving and I highly recommend it for those of you interested in deepening your understanding of race relations in this country. It challenged me to look harder at the individual responsibility I have to understanding the role I play in contributing to or combatting racism. I have a long way to go.
Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017 www.meaganfrank.com @choosingtogrow