Photo by Casey Gomez

This weekend, what was initially just a drop in the bucket became a deluge when many NFL teams and other professional athletes knelt or locked arms during the national anthem as a form of protest. This coming together was sparked by a series of comments from the president regarding the continued protests of many NFL players that began with Colin Kaepernick last season.

Many people have accused athletes like Kaepernick of being disrespectful or unpatriotic, while many others have supported their right to protest. From veterans to the common people this issue has become huge; however, the difference in opinion could not be simpler. It all stems from the difference between nationalism
and patriotism.

Per Merriam-Webster dictionary, nationalism means “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”

On the other hand, patriotism is defined as “love or devotion to one’s country.” Most of the arguments against the protests and for the boycott of these leagues and teams is that these players are disrespecting the anthem, the flag and those who fight to protect it. Unfortunately, this view directly contradicts what the players have said, and the entire purpose of playing the national anthem at sporting events.

First, the players, Kaepernick specifically, have made it clear that he and others are protesting racial tensions between black people and police. In an exclusive interview with NFL Media last season Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish of me to look the other way.”

Kaepernick’s thoughts aren’t disrespectful, they bring up legitimate points. As of recently, race relations have been high with many cases of unarmed black people being killed by police officers.

Unfortunately, the arguments against Kaepernick do not stop there, he and other athletes are told to simply “do their job” instead of making a statement. This plays into my second point about the national anthem at sporting events. Throughout Europe and most of the rest of the world, national anthems are only played before games involving the national teams of countries. In the United States, however, the national anthem is played before every single sporting event.

This tradition began during the height of World War I in the MLB. Since then it has been a staple of many games, but is it nationalistic or patriotic?

Unfortunately, the anthem has been twisted into a nationalistic piece of propaganda by many citizens. Too often, the anthem is seen as representing and confirming that the United States is the greatest country on earth, when in reality, it should be a sober reminder to everyone in the country of what we have sacrificed to get to this point.

All people complaining that Kaepernick and others are disrespecting the country are the ones disrespecting what this country represents. This country is a melting pot of many different cultures. Some of those cultures, specifically minority cultures, are being disrespected and judged by many citizens, and especially police. From Trayvon Martin to Freddie Gray, there are a disproportionate amount of cases of unarmed black people being killed by the police. The people claiming that Kaepernick is being disrespectful are, in turn, disrespecting those innocent people who have died by failing to stand for them.

Right now, the citizens of the United States need to look around and decide if we are going to be nationalistic or patriotic. A patriot can love their country but understand the need for change. A nationalist will continue to support a system that is in need of

In the end, it does not matter if Kaepernick and other professional athletes are right. What truly matters is that their voices should be respected and heard, not attacked and put down.