Evan Le’Mon, The Whetstone

I haven’t stood for the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance since my senior year of high school. I’d always felt a certain level of discomfort when it came to these things. Participating in them almost felt like I was pledging my life to America in a sense.

Once I started to learn more about our history in this country and our relationship with white supremacy as Black people, I felt it was almost my duty not to stand. Why pledge my life stand for a country that won’t fight for my basic human rights? Why stand and play along with the notion that America is such a great and noble nation, when that nobility isn’t extended toward my people? When anyone questioned my choice not to participate, these are the questions I’d ask in return. The social climate wasn’t nearly as tense as it is now, but they still sparked a few classroom discussions.

When Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem at NFL games I was all for it. He and other NFL players were kneeling for basically the same reason I sat: to protest white supremacy, especially in the form of police brutality. I thought it was a great way to get those classroom discussions, but on a much larger scale.

Of course there was, and still is, pushback from people who refuse to see it as anything other than disrespect to veterans despite its true purpose being explained over and over again. The mental gymnastics involved in upholding white supremacy never cease to amaze me. However, I thought, “This is nothing we haven’t seen before. We can push through and have this conversation anyway.”

There is one aspect of this matter that has both warmed my heart and troubled my spirit. Following Kaepernick’s example, several student athletes across the country have begun to take a knee at their games – I’ve even seen referees do it. I think that’s a great way to keep the issue fresh in people’s minds, especially after the blackballing of Kaepernick by the NFL.

However, I’ve seen several stories about of these students losing play time, getting benched, and being ostracized by teammates after taking a knee. Even more so than Kaepernick’s, these stories have troubled me. Is this nation so blindly “patriotic” that they’re willing to gag any voice of perceived dissent, possibly crushing young spirits in the process? That’s a rhetorical question. I think we all know the answer.

I hope that Wesley College isn’t in that vein of thinking. I know several student athletes at this school who have similar views to mine when it comes to the issue of the anthem, and social issues in general. But I have yet to see one athlete kneel at a game. Why is that? Are they scared of retaliation from coaches? Their white teammates? Or are they just not as passionate about these issues as they claim to be? I don’t know.

When I ran track for Wesley I never stood for the anthem, but injuries ended my career before this became a hot topic. Sometimes I wonder what reception I would get if I still ran today and I didn’t stand. I wonder what would happen if a member of the football team, Wesley’s crown jewel, didn’t stand.

I was an intern for the Sports Information Department this semester, so I sat in the press box during all the football games. I never stood for the anthem, and I never had any problems. However, during the Homecoming game I noticed something different. For one, there were more people in the press box that day, most of them old and white. After I didn’t stand, I noticed that none of them would look me in the eye. I even spoke to the lady next to me a couple of times, and she completely ignored me. I can’t help but wonder if our interactions might’ve been different had I stood.