This past weekend Nike made a big announcement with the unveiling of their new relationship with Colin Kaepernick. Before going any deeper, if you’re reading this blog you likely already have a strong position about how you feel about Kaepernick and flag kneeling, as this has easily been the most controversial sport sociological issues in recent years. My experience has shown that few people are indifferent about this issue (or Kaepernick), but instead take either a pro-Kaepernick position (agreeing that peaceful protest is a First Amendment right) or anti-Kaepernick (First Amendment aside, flag kneeling is unconditionally wrong). For supporters of Kaepernick, the Nike decision is looked at as another helpful and important step to raise awareness toward social injustices; conversely, folks who oppose Kaepernick see the Nike deal as a slap in the face, and many have responded by trashing their Nike gear in protest.
They have a reason for their position as you do for yours…
Now that the kneeling movement has endured for a couple years, it seems like it’s time to see the next stage unfold. What does the movement mean today? Does it mean the same thing(s) as it did when it originally began? Is progress being made? And speaking of, have we ever specifically defined the exact issue(s) that we want to see improved?
When I listen to people on both sides of the issue speak, I continually come back to my same response: Wouldn’t people come together, at least a little, if both sides were to truly listen to the other? Do the anti-Kaepernick folks really understand what the protest is about? Similarly, do the folks kneeling really understand how this specific form of protest (flag kneeling) strikes a cord unlike no other, and prevents some people from seeing past the perceived disrespect to the flag so that they might truly understand the issues that prompted the movement in the first place?
Often I use this approach therapeutically with clients when we sort through their stress and the people and things in life that upset them. Have you looked at the situation how someone else might see it? Only when we do that do we begin to see the world in different and healthier ways.
Listen, learn, and understand
Perhaps the most difficult thing for people to do when engaged in discussions of opposing views is to stop, actively listen, and truly consider the other person’s point of view. To set aside our own thoughts, feelings, and impressions of the flag kneeling movement is not easy to do for most people, and that’s understandable. For some, the kneeling movement is exclusively seen through the lens of disrespect and anti-patriotism, preventing any real growth opportunities from ever occurring. If you feel this way — and you have every right to feel this way — is it possible to set those feelings aside for just a moment and wonder what it must be like for protesters to take a knee knowing that they will be viewed as traitors to this country?
It’s also important for flag kneelers to tune in to why so many Americans are bothered by the current protest, and why some are now burning their Nike gear in their own protest. Stop, listen, and understand why this is occurring — flag kneeling will be exclusively tied to previous Americans (some family members) who have lost their life for America, and even with disclaimers that the protest isn’t disrespecting that fact, it may be a message that simply can’t be sold. Protesters would also help their cause if they better spelled out specific changes that need to occur for America to be a better place, and owned up to instances where individual victims simply made poor choices rather than hold police officers completely accountable for every unfortunate shooting.
If both sides made better efforts, I think reasonable people would agree that we could all take steps together to remedy the current divide that exists.
The Nike-Kaepernick deal is the latest nuance in the flag kneeling protest movement, and as expected, has generated strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Regardless of the steps the NFL takes to eliminate flag kneeling for the future, the prediction here is that the protests will continue — even if it leads to future player suspensions. My hope, however, is that we all try to see both sides of the protest and continue to engage in healthy dialogue so that better future outcomes can occur.