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WBEZ Listeners Respond To Sunday’s NFL Protests

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In a Friday speech — and a subsequent series of tweets — President Donald Trump expressed his support for firing or suspending professional football players who kneel during the national anthem.

On Sunday, roughly 200 players sat, knelt or raised their fists during pre-game renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner,” according to NPR

“Instead of less than 10 players kneeling a week before, now you have 250 players, whole teams deciding to sit out the national anthem,” sports legal analyst Exavier Pope said Monday on Morning Shift. “You saw a baseball player decide to kneel for the national anthem — first baseball player to do it — and you saw WNBA players get involved.”

Pope said not standing for the national anthem first gained national attention in 2016 when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a seat to protest racial inequality in America. 

To gauge how people felt about NFL players not standing during the national anthem, Morning Shift took calls from WBEZ listeners. Below are a few highlights of what they had to say.

Patriotism doesn’t ‘belong’ to a particular side of the political spectrum

Pat, a caller from Evanston, Illinois who supports players’ right to protest, said that the freedom to express one’s opinion is a fundamental American ideal.

Caller Pat: It’s alright if people disagree. It’s absolutely important that people can disagree, but they at least have to be civil about it and understand that these players are just expressing their support for one another. Ultimately, they’re just saying look, we’re Americans. We can take a different position. We can take a different stance. It doesn’t make us unpatriotic. Patriotism does not belong to the right-wing or the left-wing or the alt-right, it belongs to everybody and we all express it in our own way.

Kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful 

Brian, a caller from Chicago’s River North neighborhood, argued that the players who knelt for the anthem, particularly those who played in London on Sunday, “disrespect the country.”

Caller Brian: They stand for the United Kingdom national anthem but they kneel for the United States, so how is that not a complete disrespect for the country that’s giving them this opportunity to earn a paycheck and play a game for a living?

I know it’s a brutal sport that wrecks havoc on a lot of parts of your body, but they’ve opted-in to do this. They wanted to make a career out of it. There’s no other country in the world that would allow them the opportunity to play a game for a living and make millions and millions of dollars. 

Kneeling is a sign of reverence 

Linda, a caller from Des Plaines, Illinois who said she was a retired army officer, said the act of kneeling signals respect.

Caller Linda: In the service, when we lose a soldier, we have a ceremony that we do where we put the soldier’s boots down and their weapon and their Kevlar helmet, and we kneel in front of that. It’s a sign of reverence. 

My question is — everybody’s getting on these football players and all these other people for kneeling — since when is kneeling not a sign of uber-reverence? Why are they carrying on and on about him kneeling? He didn’t flip a bird. He’s kneeling.

Players have a right to protest

A caller from Hammond, Indiana, said he thought Trump “inserted himself into this conversation to be the center of attention.”

Caller Frank: I feel that everybody has the right, if they want to protest. I think that especially when they’re in the spotlight on the field they can get their message out. It’s not about Donald Trump. I’m patriotic, but it feels like if I am patriotic, that means that I support Donald Trump, and I don’t. 

There was a situation over the 4th of July when I was at Kmart and I was going to buy this red, white, and blue T-shirt. I didn’t because I thought, “No, everybody’s going to think I’m a Trump supporter,” and I’m not. I’m patriotic, I love our country, and that’s what frustrates me so much. 

We received many more phone calls about this weekend's NFL protests. Click on the 'play' symbol below to hear some of the listeners we couldn't get to.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. It was adapted for the web by Justin Bull. Click the ‘play’ button above to hear the entire segment, which also featured WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye Stout. 

Find more of our reporting here on fan reactions to player protests from Sunday’s Bears game at Soldier Field.

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