COLUMN: To kneel or not to kneel: that is not the question


UNITY: Members of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars locked arms as one player knelt during the National Anthem before their game against the Baltimore Ravens Sept. 24.

Around the NFL, players are kneeling during the National Anthem to protest our president and racial discrimination around the United States. Players and owners are uniting to stand up for what they believe, and I support them.

But this is not a political column, so I am not going to go on a whole rant about my opinion on this issue. I am here to talk about the place that politics has in sports.

During Week 5 of the football season, Vice President Mike Pence appeared at the San Francisco 49ers vs. Indianapolis Colts game and then left before the game even started, because players knelt in protest. President Trump commended his actions, tweeting “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”

Actor Zach Braff tweeted and pointed out that Pence “…wait for it…. Protested.” It seems that Mr. Pence was protesting the behavior of protesting — which to me does not make a lot of sense.

Regardless, President Trump, Vice President Pence and their supporters think that players are disrespecting our country and troops by kneeling during the anthem. Others feel that football players are rather being very patriotic by exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

But what does this have to do with sports? Sports usually are an escape from politics and real-world problems. Sports unite us. Even if we support different teams, Los Angeles Lakers fans and Boston Celtics fans can agree that basketball is a great sport.

Unfortunately, the issue of choices during the National Anthem is now dividing people in what should be a sacred place. And in a country already so divided about guns, health care and who should be president, the last thing we need is another divisive issue.

So here’s what I say: live and let live. If Vice President Pence wants to show up to the pre-game show and then leave, it is his right. If the Pittsburgh Steelers choose not to leave their locker room during the National Anthem, it’s their right, too. The most beautiful thing about our country is that it is a place that strives for equality and freedom.

Sports may divide us by team and by city, but they should not divide us between those who stand and those who kneel, or between people who feel one way or another about race, guns, healthcare or the president.

Instead, let’s focus on the sports themselves. Let’s focus on playing the games, on supporting our teams, on appreciating a beautiful catch or a crazy interception or a ridiculous slam-dunk.

I support those who kneel, who stand, who sing, who hum, and who walk out when others do or don’t do those things. I support those who speak out against, and those who speak out in favor.

But now, let’s focus on the games instead of the news. The Dodgers are en route to their first World Series win since 1988, and even the Rams are having what appears to be their strongest season in a long time. It’s inevitable — politics will be present in the sports world. But it’s also okay to cheer the teams and enjoy a Jeff’s hot dog at the ballpark.

Because really, what else would you rather be doing?