Traditionally Speaking: Of Kneeling and Protests

Traditionally Speaking” discussed traditions or standard practices being threatened or modified by the coronavirus crisis.  There, I noted traditions often take centuries to evolve, though some forces may cause shifts more quickly. At the time, it seemed comments by highly placed health officials, and so-called experts might change time-honored practices or traditions. Here, I want to bring up a sensitive topic that I hoped had been laid to rest. Apparently, it has not, and since it involves traditions, I am commenting.

Before going any farther, let’s make one thing clear. Athletes, professional, amateur, current, or former have the right to protest in any peaceful way they would like. On the other hand, employers, fans, or whatever, have the right to be upset, supportive, or comatose. Employers can tell their employees to keep their causes off the field or court, fans can decide to buy tickets or not, etc. Those matters are not the point of this piece.

The point here is simple. Colin Kaepernick received some bad advice in 2016 when he triggered the kneeling in protest controversy. Kneeling is a tradition with meaning, and that meaning has nothing to do with protesting an unjust system. Additionally, one should wonder why, if protesting was so important, did he agree to take a knee? 

The short answer to that last question is he was being roasted for sitting during the national anthem. Accordingly, when a former pro reached out to him and suggested taking a knee, they both thought it might be seen as less confrontational. That certainly was an inaccurate assessment of the situation, which brings me to the point of this piece.

The explanation given for changing to kneeling clearly shows a lack of understanding of what kneeling signifies. Of course, the response to Kaepernick’s actions indicates a general misunderstanding of the act as well.

For the record, kneeling is less confrontational than some other actions one could take. For instance,  two of the United State’s black athletes stood on the podium with black-gloved fists raised in protest at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.  For those who witnessed it, that protest would be hard to forget. Their action was an act of protest, rebellion, whatever one wants to call it. Kneeling is not such an act.

That fact was lost on Kaepernick and the man who suggested kneeling.  If you do not understand that read the friend’s comments during an interview over the matter. He mentioned several reasons he suggested kneeling and why it was respectful, which he hoped might mitigate the anger toward their protests.

For the record, kneeling is an act of submission. Yes, through that act of submission, one is showing respect, but take the examples the advisor used. He said people knelt when being knighted, they knelt when proposing, and they knelt in prayer.  Those are all acts of submission, as well as respect. 

One kneels when being knighted because one is, by accepting the title, pledging fealty to the king or queen. When one kneels to propose, the suitor is promising to submit to the future spouse, until “death do us part.” Finally, when kneeling in prayer, one is submitting to God’s will or at least recognizing and acknowledging God’s superiority. 

In defending Kaepernick, some have used the example of Reverend Martin Luther King taking a knee during his crusade for civil rights. As far as I knew at the time and know now, Dr. King was kneeling in prayer on those moments. Dr. King was asking God to help bring about change in this country.  In that case, Rev. King’s kneeling was the ultimate act of submission to God’s will.

If Kaepernick, or anyone else, wishes to protest during the playing of the national anthem, they should have the courage of their convictions. Either take a seat in protest, stand with a back to the flag, or raise a fist as did the original athletes to protest during the national anthem. Do not go down on your knees, unless you are praying, and I can find no evidence Kaepernick ever claimed he was kneeling prayer.

© -2020

About S. Eric Jackson

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