By JAMIE MCGUIRE
NFL players kneeling during the national anthem recently set off a storm that swept up all of America, sparking discussions in homes across the United States — including here at the University of Mary Washington.
NFL player protests are not about disrespecting the flag or anthem. However, the media has misinterpreted the protest’s meaning and has started controversy that this protest insults American values. Coaches and athletes here at Mary Washington understand the significance of the protest. They hold the flag and anthem in high respects but recognize that this protest aims to direct attention to the symbols of our country.
When asking students Tommy Mead and Eric Shaw how they feel about the NFL protest, both agreed it has been misinterpreted by the media.
Eric Shaw, a senior and Varsity Basketball Player said, “I believe that the NFL players’ protests are continuously being taken out of context from what the true purpose of the protest was… The protest was meant [to address] the lack of equality and [extreme] police brutally occurring all over America.”
Similarly, Tommy Mead, Senior and Varsity Soccer player said, “It’s supposed to be about protesting racism, but it is being portrayed as Anti-American and Anti-Military.”
The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics released a mission statement on the University Website saying, “Every day in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics we engage our community to teach, support and celebrate our student-athletes in their quest for excellence. We bring Eagles together through events we host on campus and participate in across the nation. At the same time, we provide opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders to develop strong values through athletic competition: teamwork, sacrifice, preparation, adversity and success.”
The words in the University’s mission statement capture the passion UMW athletes and coaches bring to our community. Being that values are a core part of our community, many students, athletes and coaches feel that the value of the National Anthem and Flag should never be disrespected. Standing for the anthem is a symbol of respect to our Military and those who have died for our freedoms.
Kris Kabza, Women’s Rugby team coach, shared that he cherishes the flag given to him after his grandfather, a navy veteran, passed away. He has many family members in the military, and is thankful for their service. Kabza feels that although he supports the NFL player’s right to protest, he says that kneeling during the national anthem is “disrespectful towards our service members.”
Min Sae Chae, Men’s Rugby coach, said that during practice occasionally they will hear the anthem playing and as a team they will all stand in unison facing the flag. It is important to Chae, that his players have the right to protest.
“If a player or group of players, less than the majority, felt very strongly about having some sort of protest then I would first ask to speak to [them] to understand where they are coming from and what they hope to accomplish… I would not prevent a player from protesting but would ask that we can do something as a team rather than as individuals,” said Chae.
Students here at Mary Washington have not all joined the protest, for personal reasons or for their own respect for the National Anthem and Military. Some students do not see kneeling as an advert sign of disrespect of military or the flag, but a right to the citizens to protest.
Stuart Penninger, Grad Student and Men’s Rugby player, said “Players have every right to protest when they see racial injustice and police brutality plague their country… They have a stage to reach millions of people, using it to illuminate injustices is almost a moral obligation.”
Additionally, Eric Shaw had said, “The attention has somehow been skewed towards being disrespectful towards the military because some believe that the military fought and died for our right to stand during the National Anthem. However, they equally fought for our rights to kneel during the National Anthem as a form of self-expression.”