Anthem Supports False Narrative of Freedom

When our field hockey team stood for the national anthem Saturday, it didn’t feel right. We didn’t feel proud to be standing for America because we didn’t feel that America offers anything worth being proud of. We’d felt this before: feelings of discomfort, confusion, and anger over being pressured to stand tall and strong in a display of unrelenting patriotism. At a certain point, we just couldn’t ignore the feeling anymore.

In August and September 2016, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, received an enormous amount of media attention after kneeling during the anthem before one of the 49ers’ football games. Immediately after, people demanded to know: Why did he kneel?

Since that moment, which captured so much of the nation’s attention, countless athletes across the country — at the professional, collegiate, and even high school level — have followed Kaepernick’s example and knelt during the anthem. Last fall, our field hockey team joined those ranks. This weekend, some of us chose to kneel once again.

Simply put, we kneel for justice. When the national anthem first reached American ears, Black people were still enslaved. It is not a song written for us, about us, or in support of us. This “land of the free” was a land of slavery and oppression, and what the American flag symbolizes is no different.

The anthem and flag that represented an America in which Black people walked in chains still represents the America of today. Though much has changed since then, the United States has done little to prove that it values Black lives, work, or experience. The anthem, the flag, and most importantly, this country still fail to stand for all Americans. Until the United States stands for us, we won’t stand for it.

When you get to Oberlin, you’re told to choose a category: athlete or activist, not both. In many ways, there is a divide between athletics and activism and a perception that you cannot be involved in both communities. However, as Black athletes, we cannot decide to switch our Blackness on or off. Athletics are an important part of who we are and what we do at Oberlin.

Field hockey is one of the most important parts of our lives, and we care deeply about our team. But we are always Black first and athletes second. As Black athletes, we carry our Blackness with us every time we walk into the locker room, the weight room, or onto the field. We use our sport as a platform to stand up — or kneel down — for the issues we care about because there is no way for us to ignore who we are when we walk onto the field, and we shouldn’t have to.

There has always been controversy about using sports as a platform to make statements about social and political movements. Activism has caused tension on many teams — even our own field hockey team in previous years. Yet, few people question the legitimacy of sports as a platform when it comes to raising awareness about breast cancer, autism, or domestic violence. It’s hard to understand how using sports to stand up for some issues can be widely accepted and supported in some contexts, but receive so much backlash in others.

Instead of asking us why we kneel, ask yourself what you stand for. Do you stand for America? Do you stand for our troops? Do you stand for police brutality? Mass incarceration? Institutional racism? Trump?

Simply standing for the flag because it’s what we’ve been conditioned to do isn’t enough for us anymore. We don’t have the privilege to pick and choose what parts of America we want to stand for. Because we can’t stand for all of America, we kneel.

The first game in which we knelt for the national anthem felt right. Instead of mindlessly honoring the flag, we honored ourselves and our beliefs. Not everyone felt as passionately about this gesture as we did, but they still knelt in solidarity with us. For every game played — and every game to come — we kneel for ourselves. We kneel for our people. We kneel for justice. We kneel for change. We kneel for a land of the free — a land that does not yet exist.