After concern about whether or not there would be a season due to COVID-19, the NFL is beginning their regular season this weekend. The pre-season games were eliminated from the schedule, but the regular season is going on with a lot of modifications. For now, Football (and other sports) are back, though.
This year, player protests are front-and-center in our conversations about sports again. Four years ago, the practice of kneeling in protest became a hot button topic as Colin Kaepernick made it his practice to kneel during the singing of the National Anthem before games. This action stirred emotions among both those who were concerned about racism and those who felt it was a sign of disrespect for our country and the military men and women who fought and died for our nation. At that time, the NFL banned the practice and blacklisted Kaepernick as a player no team wanted to sign.
Four years later, in the shadow of more protests and riots surrounding the death of multiple unarmed black men at the hand police officers and self-appointed vigilantes, the NFL has acknowledged that they were wrong in their dismissal of Kaepernick. Professional leagues have acknowledge the systemic racism that lead many of their players to protest and given them more latitude in carrying out these protests. Teams have boycotted games with no consequence. Retired players have supported current players by walking off broadcast sets to show their support for players. NASCAR has even banned the display of the “Confederate Flag” at any of their events. In general, there is a tone that those in power in the sports world now acknowledge that they misunderstood why Kaepernick started his protest four years ago. Also, those who want to maintain the status quo repeat their calls for players to stick to sports and not impose their “politics” on their preferred forms of entertainment.
I’ve always supported the right of players to kneel during the Anthem in protest to the systemic racism we see in our country. I’m rarely at events where people played the National Anthem in the past few years but I’ve often wonder how I should respond during the Anthem, myself. Since these were not large platform events, I’ve generally chosen to stand quietly and pray for healing in our nation. As the years go by, though, I’m more inclined to think kneeling is the better posture. This is not because I hate America or don’t respect those who have served and died in our military. It’s because our nation is broken and in desperate need of healing.
We are broken as a nation. It’s becoming harder and harder to deny that the good men and women who service in our police force are having their work tarnished by those who abuse their power and the system that protects the abusive cops. It is more apparent than ever that this does affect African-American men more than other demographics. We still live in denial of the history of racism in our nation that goes way beyond slavery and Jim Crow laws. I live in a city where black people are statistically twice as likely as white people to experience homelessness. We have reached the point where dialogue about these issues seems more and more difficult without resorting to half-truth memes and name calling. Opportunists and agitators of all political stripes are taking advantage of peaceful protests to promote looting and rioting that continues to push us to the brink of another civil war. A seventeen-year-old young man who was brainwashed to fear others now sits in jail facing a life sentence for killing protesters as he acted out on his fear of those he was told were “destroying America.” All of this points to a nation that is broken and in desperate need of healing.
Long ago God spoke to King Solomon about the brokenness Israel would experience over the years. He promised, “if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) Kneeling is not just a posture of protest, it is also a posture of humble repentance before God as we ask for healing for our nation. Some would prefer the healing without the repentance but the two go hand-in-hand. This is why I am more inclined to kneel at times when culture expects be to stand as a sign of devotion to our nation. I kneel because I know that our nation has much to repent of and we need God to teach us how to be whole people again.