Sports commentator Tom Goldman was talking in a podcast about the controversy of NFL players kneeling during the anthem.
He reflected about the times you TAKE A KNEE during a football game, and mentioned two:
When the quarterback gets the snap, he will take a knee to stop the play. There is a greater purpose or strategy – he wants to utilize resources carefully, and there is a plan to achieve an objective, so it’s necessary to, in this situation, stop the play, in order to set the stage for what happens next.
Taking a knee is thus a fitting action of protest, because when people protest against social injustice, they frequently discern that, in order to begin a process of correcting problems in the social order, there needs to be an interruption of the ordinary flow of things. Stop the play, take a knee.
Goldman referred to another way guys take a knee in football, and that’s when, at the end of a practice the coach will gather the team and tell everyone to take a knee, and there will be a time of collective listening and learning. They’ll go over everything they’ve been working on in practice, and remember together what they’re going up against in the upcoming game.
Advocates for social change similarly understand that deep study into the challenges they face is necessary in order to actually surmount those challenges in the coming days. The news coverage of protest movements is all about the shouting and picket signs, but effective activists invest an enormous amount in listening, planning, and discerning together what the best path forward is. Agents of change take a knee.
As I listened, I was eagerly waiting for Goldman to add a third way that players typically take a knee, but he didn’t go there, so I thought I’d write about it here.
To me, the most obvious reason someone takes a knee in football is: YOU TAKE A KNEE WHEN SOMEONE IS HURT. When a man goes down hard on the field, and the medics run out, players from both teams, everyone, down to the third string, will take a knee in a show of solidarity and compassion for the injury that is being suffered by their comrade.
This is the clearest, most basic show of human decency that exists in the game of football, which is regularly derided as vicious and barbaric. You take a knee, because you care that somebody got hurt.
By this parallel, taking a knee is the most appropriate way to protest injustice, because injustice is not an abstract concept by which people are theoretically right or wrong. Protestors don’t hit the streets out of the principle of the thing. Injustice is about real people getting hurt. We protest because the hurt that our neighbors are experiencing matters to us, just like players on the football field, when they kneel.
That’s what Colin Kaepernick was communicating when this whole movement began. He cares that people in our land are hurting. And as the numbers of players kneeling increases, we are witnessing a growing movement of people willing to say that the suffering of others matters to them.
If another’s hurt hurts you deep down, you understand it’s no disrespect to kneel when our nation’s unifying song is played. It’s a sign of the utmost respect, and a calling to our better self as a people.
So go ahead, take a knee.
I really like the context you place “taking a knee.” It is a position of vulnerability, non-threatening, unless of course, there is no room for dissent. Thanks for your thoughtful article, Rob.