Position Statement on “Taking a Knee” in the NFL

The act of “taking a knee” during the National Anthem has been received in a variety of ways, from calls for firing the players who kneel, to the NFL Commissioner’s statement that the players “should” stand, to those who support the players’ right to protest and free speech.  Complex issues of respect for the flag, respect for the National Anthem, and the treatment of oppressed persons in this country become conflated because people blur the setting of the protest with the message of the protest.  


Based on interviews with Colin Kaepernick, his intent was to make a statement concerning the  treatment of Black persons in the U.S., most notably police shootings of unarmed Black men.  His action was related to the flag as he mourns the unkept promise that the flag represents – the protection of rights, equal access to opportunities, and respectful legal and social treatment for Black persons.  The act of taking a knee is a gesture of mourning, of reverence, and was intended to remind us of this unkept promise.  Kneeling is not an act of defiance or disrespect, but an act of socially responsible peaceful protest.

In the broader context of social justice, this protest, no matter what the setting, is protected under free speech and represents a reminder to us all that the world is not an equal place.  Well documented explorations of systemic oppression of Blacks can be found in books such as “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and the documentary “13th”.  In all measures of quality of life, Black men, women, and children still fall behind other racial/cultural groups, evidence of differential systemic challenges that still deter the full actualization of human potential.  Counselors are bound by moral and ethical standards to support clients and community members as they address these differential systemic challenges.  Through empowerment, allyhood, advocacy, and power and discourse analysis, counselors can take actions to address the oppressive systems that Mr. Kaepernick protests, and ensure that ALL persons experience the promise of equal rights represented by the flag.