The Star Spangled Banner: To sit or stand


Clarion photo Ian Legros

Senior Sione Ofa raises his hand during the national anthem protesting the oppression of people of color. Assistant Coach John Taylor has his hand raised out of a tradition of his, unrelated to any protest.

By Ashley Lytle, Editor-in-Chief

What started out as a lone protester has spread across the country. Citizens across the nation are joining Colin Kaepernick by kneeling or using other symbolic forms of communication  during the National Anthem as a peaceful way to protest the oppression people of color are facing in the U.S.

Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, ignited social media when he chose to sit during the anthem on Aug. 26 during a preseason game. He had done it the week before, but no one had noticed.

“It was something that I personally decided – I just can’t stand what this [flag] represents right now. It’s not right. And the fact that it has blown up like this, I think it’s a good thing. It brings awareness. Everybody knows what’s going on and this sheds more light on it. Now, I think people are really talking about it. Having conversations about how to make change. What’s really going on this country. And we can move forward,” Kaepernick said during a media conference on Aug. 28.  

While many have supported him and a large number have joined him, not everyone has reacted positively to the protests. Kaepernick proceeded to kneel instead of sit after he received backlash claiming he was disrespecting the military by sitting.

Other athletes who have joined him include Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos (NFL); Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks (NFL); Arian Foster, Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, and Jelani Jenkins of the Miami Dolphins (NFL); Jurrell Casey, Jason McCourty, and Wesley Woodyard of the Tennessee Titans (NFL); Martellus Bennett and Devind McCourty of the New England Patriots (NFL); Robert Quinn and Kenny Britt of the Los Angeles Rams (NFL); Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Eli Harold, Rashard Robinson, and Jaquiski Tartt, of the San Francisco 49ers (NFL); Joe Barksdale and Chris Hairston of the San Diego Chargers (NFL); Megan Rapinoe  of the USWNT (National Women’s Soccer League). The Seattle Seahawks have linked arms in support of Kaepernick’s protest, but not kneeled.

The protest has additionally spread to the high school level. Although many schools remain supportive of a student’s First Amendment rights, some have taken actions to prevent such protests from taking place during their activities.

Cleveland is one of many schools that remains dedicated to a student’s right to peacefully protest. “Kids have freedom of expression. If kids demonstrate in a peaceful manner, then it’s absolutely within their rights,” said Tammy O’Neill, Cleveland’s principal.

However, there have been cases in New Jersey, Alabama, and Massachusetts, where players who have chosen to kneel have faced suspension, harassment, and/or threats.

Those incidents have not stopped citizens from participating in these peaceful displays of protest. In Camden, New Jersey, Preston Brown, football coach for Woodrow Wilson High School, chose to take a knee and all but two of his players chose to join him.

The protests are additionally taking place on the West Coast. In Seattle the entire football team at Garfield High School along with their coaching staff have decided to take a knee during the anthem for the rest of the season.

Cleveland football coach Eric Fraser said, “As a coach, I would respect any player that had the same opinions [as Kaepernick]. He’s not just doing it for just any reason. He’s doing it for something he believes in. I would want anyone that I’m coaching to feel free to do the same thing. Whether or not anyone personally agrees with it I think is irrelevant. He’s his own man and he’s within his rights, and that’s fine by me.”

No one has taken a knee at Cleveland football games, but senior Sione Ofa raised his hand in protest against the oppression of people of color during the National Anthem at Cleveland’s game against Wilson on Sept 16.

I support Colin Kaepernick and his movement to bring awareness that all lives matter especially people of color who are being treated unfairly. The National Anthem is always going to be a special part of our pre-game, but with all that’s happening lately I cannot hold back my emotions and beliefs.

— Sione Ofa, Cleveland senior


A look into the other Cleveland teams has shown that there is no reported signs of protest during the National Anthem.

As Kaepernick’s protest and other protests rapidly increase in frequency, so have the conversations around the treatment of African Americans. One such conversation is the critique of the Star Spangled Banner. Some have claimed that the song’s third stanza, which is never heard at public sporting events, is celebrating the death of African Americans.

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion

A home and a Country should leave us no more?

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry, which took place during the War of 1812. A key tactic the British used was to recruit African-American slaves who they promised freedom from their owners.

Since Kaepernick first chose to not stand, the Star Spangled Banner has come under public scrutiny for glorifying the battle and its winners and celebrating the death of slaves who were fighting for their freedom.

The injustices being protested are continuing to take place. Friday, Sept. 16, another unarmed black man was shot and killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Officer Betty Shelby shot 40-year-old Terence Crutcher and is now being charged with first degree manslaughter. Crutcher is added to an ever growing list of unarmed black men who have been shot by police.

Conversations are vitally important to understanding this rapidly changing situation and the events that have led us to where we are today. In PPS, head coaches “have to go to what you would call diversity training. It’s so we’re all well versed in the common current themes of social justice and racial equity,” said Fraser.

Varsity linebacker and running back Arturo Flores-Cruz said, “I’m pretty aware of the situation. We were talking about [Kaepernick] in my English class. It’s a pretty big opinion. I feel like everyone has their own voice.”

In a time when the mistreatment of people of color is so commonly in the news, protesters such as Kaepernick and his supporters are yet another addition to the conversations that have been springing up rather rapidly in recent months, hoping to bring about a change.