Story by Christian Banks, Gracie Hine and Stephen Wise

Beginning in the 2016 pre-season, professional football players in the NFL have begun to protest social and racial inequalities before games. They have done so by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, and it has created a polarizing controversy around the league.

The recent NFL protests began when Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began to kneel during the national anthem. It took a few games for people to realize he was doing it, but once they did it became a major story in the sports world. Now many more athletes have followed in his steps, using their First Amendment right to stand up for things they believe in by taking a knee.

“They’re using their status and their voice to shed light on something that isn’t getting addressed like it should.” said senior Josh Coleman.

Many see the protest during the national anthem as a sign of disrespect towards our country’s flag and our veterans. The players’ kneeling or sitting taking place during a time of patriotism has rubbed people the wrong way.

“I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it,” said School Resource Officer Powers, “I understand it is their first amendment right. However just because something is allowed does not mean something should be done. I believe it is very disrespectful to our country and our veterans.”

The point of the protests is not to protest the anthem, the flag or the veterans, but rather that they feel like the equality and liberty that the flag represents is not being upheld.

“I feel like it goes both way because we have troops that go out and fight but the national anthem is about equality and everybody isn’t getting that,” said sophomore Ron Hoff, “they’re just showing what they believe in.”

The NFL is not the first to begin these protests, as protests in the NBA and WNBA have been commonplace for years. Most memorably, iconic athletes like Lebron James and Kyrie Irving wore “I can’t breathe” shirts during warm-ups to protest the Trayvon Martin case.

The WNBA has knelt during the national anthem, as well as worn shirts supporting the black lives matter cause. Protests by professional athletes have been around for quite some time, but never have they been as divisive as they are now.

“As a student athlete my opinion is that it’s direct disrespect for our country. As a citizen you have a certain allegiance to the United States,” said senior Grayson Horton, “During soccer games we always go the national anthem. You can kneel before it but when it starts you should stand for it.

Some student-athletes like that athletes are using their platform to promote their beliefs.

“I think it’s a good thing that other athletes are standing up for what they believe in even if they meet backlash,” said freshman Macey Campanella.

One reason as to why the issue has become magnified recently is the President’s comments on the protests. He said that owners should fire players who took a knee during the protest.

“Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our national anthem,” tweeted President Trump, “respect our flag and our country!”

After this string of comments by the President, NFL teams reacted by condemning his divisive and hurtful statements, and said that they would not stop their players from exercising their First Amendment rights.

“First off, we need to take the twitter account away from our president. A lack of emphasis on race, that seems to be a prominent dividing factor,” said Officer Powers, “we’re all Americans yet the protests seem to continue to divide us even further.”

Although the timing of the protests may disgruntled people, the athletes speaking out against issues in society are trying to raise awareness for something they believe in.

“I feel like people got their right to express how they feel,” said Grayson Horton “When you feel like something’s not right, you should address that.”