The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.
Politics and sports have always had a complicated relationship. Donald Trump insists that football is not a place for politics. After Colin Kaepernick and other players began kneeling for the national anthem to protest police brutality against Black Americans, Trump has called them out, claiming that they are disrespecting the troops and the American flag. He has even gone as far as suggesting that the NFL should institute a rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem.
The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
This weekend, when Northwestern faced off against Wisconsin, Northwestern players and coaching staff linked arms as they entered the field, making a political statement supporting unity of all races on the college field. Linking arms is a great place to start, but Northwestern football players who feel compelled to kneel Sunday at the Homecoming game should be supported by our University because football, and college students, have always been on the forefront of American politics.
Football has always been a political sport. Until the ‘70s, many football teams in the South were all white, with Black players banned from participating. Even more recently, debates have sprung up about the NCAA’s predominately white coaching staff and predominantly Black, unpaid players – is it a form of racism to not pay these young men who are bringing in dollars for a university whose classes they rarely have time to attend? (I would argue yes, but that is for another story). It is only fitting that football players are now drawing attention to Black people victimized by police violence. Like University of Missouri players did to force their President Tim Wolfe to step down, Northwestern players have the opportunity to use the field to protest for fair treatment of marginalized populations.
Putting football aside, college students have always been a part of nationwide political protests, from the famous Greensboro sit-ins to the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the ‘60s and ‘70s. College students tend to protest issues close to their hearts, and tend to have a strong influence on national feeling about certain issues. Take, for example, the widespread student protests of the Vietnam War. While the war did not end solely because of the student’s protests, they kept attention on the war and ramped up the criticism against it. More recently, by refusing to play until their university system president stepped down after mishandling several racial incidents on campus, University of Missouri students made a major change. Northwestern students have the power to make real change in American political opinion and policy. This weekend could help shape our school’s stance on racial issues, possibly prompting officials like President Morty Schapiro to speak in support of kneeling football players.
Trump’s decision to criticize football players kneeling during the national anthem – calling them “sons of bitches” while all but explicitly saying that neo-Nazis are “very fine people” – is hypocritical at best and highly offensive at worst. Football players peacefully kneeling during the national anthem does not make them bad people, and neo-Nazis chanting “blood before soil” and “Jews will not replace us,” in my opinion, does. We should be outraged that Trump cares more about protecting the so-called integrity of a flag than the lives of Black and Jewish people.
Northwestern football players who choose to kneel have a platform for meaningful protest at this week’s Homecoming game. Linking arms was a great first step, but the university should continue to support those condemning racism and police brutality until change is made.