Student Athletes take on kneeling during the National Anthem

Since August 2016, some American athletes have protested against police brutality and racism by kneeling on one knee during the U.S. national anthem. The current debate over kneeling during the national anthem was ignited by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when he refused to stand during the “Star-Spangled banner” to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the United States.  Since that time, many other professional football players, college athletes, high school athletes, and professional athletes in other sports have refused to stand for the national anthem.

Picture from Victoria Adusei,/

These protests have generated controversy and sparked a public conversation about the protesters’ messages and how they’ve chosen to deliver them. Not everyone believes that this is the right thing to do, some believe that Kneeling during the national anthem shows disrespect for the flag and members of the armed forces and that kneeling during the national anthem is an ineffective and counterproductive way to promote a cause. 

In order to gain insight on how student athletes feel, I talked to two student athletes with completely different backgrounds. I wanted to get a better understanding about how they feel about kneeling during the national anthem. I spoke with Xach Gill, a senior linebacker at the University of North Carolina and Kish Brooks, a student track athlete at the University of Mississippi. One of the takeaways I received from the separate interviews was that  students at different institutions are under different pressure.

Some student athletes know that there’s a chance they could receive backlash if they took a knee on their own from fans and faculty. There’s a trend of most students athletes feeling as if they do things together and not on their own, the repercussions are lower.

Xach Gill and his teammates and coaches have been very vocal about the injustices in the locker room. A common thing for this team, is to discuss matters in the locker room and figure out how they can move forward as one. Many of their decisions are done together. Which means, if one decides to kneel, they wouldn’t be alone, the whole team would kneel. However the team hasn’t had any players kneel. The team decided to take action to raise awareness by marching and having open discussions about the injustice. For Xach, he and his teammates realize that they represent the school at all times so they want to do things that won’t spark controversy. However, Xach Gill feels as if he single-handedly decided to kneel, his coaches wouldn’t have an issue. The most negative backlash would possibly come from the fans.

University of North Carolina Athletics

Interview w/ Xach : Click HERE

Kish Brook on the other hand, is from the Caribbean Island. For her, if someone kneeled against her flag she wouldn’t have an issue with it. So, she doesn’t believe that kneeling is an issue, because everyone should have the right to express. However, it’s a lot more challenging for a student athlete to kneel than a regular student. “We represent our school at all times, it’s not that I don’t think my coaches would not support it, but I don’t think that’s an issue they would want to tackle. The safest thing for the school to do was to hold events together (all the athletes).”  

Ole Miss Athletics

A common trend is for student athletes to raise awareness together, which is why we have seen more coaches join their players and march and less collegiate athletes take a kneel. Most of the kneeling has come from established professional players. A question arose that asked if student athletes are scared to take a kneel because of how Colin Kaepernick was treated. Kaepernick lost his job soon after kneeling.

If student athletes didn’t have to consider their future or the negative backlash, I do believe that we would see a rise in student athletes that take a knee during the national anthem. 

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