When Did Kneeling Become An Act Of Disrespect?

Historically speaking, kneeling is considered the consummate sign of respect. Knights knelt before taking a solemn oath. Parishioners kneel while praying to deity. A person kneels, or at least used to, before asking for a significant other’s hand in marriage. Kneeling is literally an act of submission, allegiance, and reverence.

To further illustrate the historical significance of kneeling, one simply can recall the fate of those who refused to kneel before a conquering ruler. Genghis Khan, Darius I, and Julius Caesar immediately come to mind. These historical figures showed no mercy to opposing foes who refused to bend the knee. It can be argued that kneeling, was once considered more sacred than one’s word, handshake, or signature. Kneeling, in effect, is a representation of true fidelity to a person, place, or cause.

Apparently, however, this is no longer the case. Despite being a centuries-old, internationally recognized, act of humility, kneeling (at least in the United States) has been diminished to a gesture of disrespect, which is an abhorrent distortion of historical fact.

On September 22, President Trump publicly weighed in on the controversial silent protests of NFL players who choose to kneel during the national anthem. President Trump referred to these players, who are predominately African American, as “son of bitch,” and called on team owners to “fire” players who refused to stand during the anthem. President Trump has also encouraged the NFL to ban players who continue to kneel during the national anthem.

President Trump’s remarks sent shock-waves through the professional sports community. Athletes, coaches, and owners in three of the four major sports leagues in the United States publicly denounced the President’s comments. The National Hockey League has yet to comment on the President’s remarks.

In a show of unity, many NFL teams knelt, with arms locked, while the national anthem played in stadiums across the nation during Sunday’s games. Even Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and outspoken critic of players who had previously knelt during the anthem, knelt with his team on the field prior to kickoff.

Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, kneels with head coach, Jason Garrett, and players in a show of unity.
Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, kneels with head coach, Jason Garrett, and players in a show of unity.

The silent protests gained notoriety in August of last year after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, chose to sit during the national anthem to protest police brutality in the wake of a string of traumatic deaths suffered by African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Since Kaepernick began his silent protest, it has been reported that 223 additional African Americans have been added to the list of law-abiding citizens who were killed by law enforcement officers.

Kaepernick no longer plays for the San Francisco 49ers, and he has yet to be signed by another NFL team. Some believe Kaepernick has been essentially blackballed due to his silent, yet controversial protest. Despite being unemployed, however, Kaepernick continues to make good on his pledge of donating one million dollars to various charities throughout the nation. He is a mere $200,000 short of reaching that goal.

When Kaepernick began his protest, he received widespread criticism from players, coaches, fans, and politicians alike. His opponents quickly re-framed his stance as an affront to the United States flag and military service members at-large. Kaepernick publicly defended and reiterated the purpose of his protest – to call attention to systemic racism and police brutality – going so far as to meet with Green Beret, Nate Boyer, to clarify his position while expressing respect and extending his gratitude to military service members. As a show of good faith, Kaepernick asked Boyer how he could continue his silent protest without offending the great men and women who fight to defend the United States. Boyer replied, “kneel.” Kaepernick has respectfully complied with Boyer’s recommendation since that conversation.

Ironically, the very freedom the brave men and women of the military risk their lives to guarantee, at this very moment, appears to be under attack. Namely, the right to free speech and peaceful protest. Colin Kaepernick, along with scores of players and coaches, and thousands of fans, now find themselves at odds with a president who once embraced and championed First Amendment rights. At the CPAC convention earlier this year, President Trump passionately proclaimed, "I love the First Amendment, nobody loves it better than me;" which is puzzling because President Trump’s denunciation of NFL players who choose to kneel seems to encourage the restriction of First Amendment rights.

President Trump continues to vehemently condemn NFL players who choose to kneel, yet he fails to condemn white supremacists with the same passion and fervor. The President also continues to perpetuate a divisive narrative that suggests dishonor and disrespect for the American flag and military service members when a player chooses to kneel, despite military service members having rebutted such a claim.

For those who are on the fence with regard to whether taking a knee during the national anthem is disrespectful, consider this: When William Marshal knelt while being knighted by Henry II, was that an act of disrespect? Did Marshal bring dishonor to his family and country by kneeling? Likewise, when Jacqueline Kennedy publicly knelt before Cardinal Cushing during the funeral service of Robert F. Kennedy, did she disrespect her faith and bring dishonor to the Kennedy name? What about when soldiers kneel to honor 9/11 victims while patriotic music plays as the American flag waves overhead? Is this, too, an act of disrespect?

The answer is an unequivocal no.

Kneeling has never been considered an act of disrespect - in any culture - and to suggest otherwise, is a show of ignorance and utter disregard for history.

Portrait of President Washington kneeling at Valley Forge.
Portrait of President Washington kneeling at Valley Forge.
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