Editorial: No disrespect in taking a knee

Symbolism can be a powerful force for good — or ill. When San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee a year ago to protest police brutality against black Americans, his point was not to disrespect the American flag, but to bring attention to a national crisis that had been largely ignored.
Others picked up on the message, the issue became better known and it was soon a rallying point for Black Lives Matter. In a democracy based on the core principle of the right to free speech, and by which the nation has prospered since the U.S. Constitution was drafted back in 1787, Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee — as well as those who have supported him — has been a poignant, yet peaceful way to focus the national dialogue on a troubling issue.
The infraction has been on those who would make his speech something it never was.
For Kaepernick, it was never about disrespecting the flag. Yet, it was also an easy image to cast in a negative light and there are those political opportunists who jumped at the chance to stir up a controversy in a way that would divide Americans — in this case, casting a bold image of a man speaking out against police brutality into an action others viewed as being unpatriotic.
After the president needlessly and fecklessly weighed in on the issue a few weeks ago, the NFL initially took the right steps to support teams and teammates who knelt in support of Kaepernick’s protest. They firmly rejected the president’s clueless suggestion that it was something the NFL should prohibit, let alone “fire the son-of-a-bitches” (yes, that is what this president really said) if they did it again. Owners and players were outraged the president could be so blind to America’s core principles and deliberately seek to stir up racial bias and hatred. Teams, coaches and owners throughout the NFL knelt in common support for the next few games.
Yet, there has been the inevitable blowback because right-wing commentators can, and do, foment discourse for political advantage at the drop of a hat. Trump knows that, understands the issue was red meat for his base, and has made it another dividing point among us.
That two Middlebury College football players knelt on the sidelines this past weekend before their game with Williams College brings such symbolism to life locally — and that should be welcome if understood in the context it is meant. It’s right that students, and any member of our collective communities, have the courage and confidence to express their views without fear of retribution. And it allows community members to witness the innocence of that action as a personal expression — speaking out against police brutality — without Fox News commentators, and the president, perverting their actions as something they are not.
Angelo Lynn

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