The National Football League opens its season in cities across the United States this weekend.
Fans will be cheering for their favorite teams and players during games Sunday and Monday. But many people will also be paying attention to what happens before the game.
America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is played before many sporting events in the U.S. This has been the case for about 100 years.
In most cases, fans and players stand up, look toward the flag, and sing the words to the song.
But recently, one player has not done that.
Colin Kaepernick is a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick did not stand for the anthem before the San Francisco game on August 26. The game was an exhibition. The results do not count toward the teams’ standings.
Colin Kaepernick said he chose not to stand as protest. He said he was objecting to the way black people and people of color are treated in the United States.
He spoke about police killings of unarmed African-Americans. He said “there are bodies in the street” and “people … getting away with murder.”
There was mixed public reaction to Kaepernick’s action.
The Associated Press news agency talked to two fans at a game the following week. The 49ers were playing the San Diego Chargers.
Leo Uzcategui is a Navy veteran. He was not happy to see Kaepernick.
Uzcategui said he understood Kaepernick’s right to express his views. But he objected to the way the athlete did so.
Uzcategui told the AP: “I was in the Navy and I saw men and women bleed and die for this flag … you don't sit during … the national anthem. That is not the way to do it.”
Another fan, Domenique Banks, asked Kaepernick to sign a shirt she had.
“I told him I appreciate what he is standing up for,” Banks said. “Most of the people I talk to say the same thing. I don't like that he is sitting during the national anthem, but I appreciate what he is standing for,” she said.
“I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about,” Obama said. “And, if nothing else, what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about. Sometimes it's messy, but it's the way democracy works.”
Other NFL players and athletes in other sports said they support Kaepernick.
Megan Rapinoe is a soccer player and a member of the USA women’s soccer team. She did not stand for the national anthem before her team’s game on September 4.
Rapinoe said she wanted to show support for Kaepernick. She also said that she feels her personal liberties are not always protected because she is gay.
Is Kaepernick’s protest just one part of a trend? It seems athletes might be speaking more freely about social issues than in recent years.
On the final day of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa won a silver medal in the marathon. As he crossed the finish line, he crossed his arms just above his head to make the shape of an “X.”
Lilesa was protesting the Ethiopian government’s killing of Oromo people.
Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Oromo activists were killed last year. The Oromo had used the sign during protests. The Ethiopian government says Human Rights Watch inflated the number of dead.
Lilesa has told reporters he will be punished if he returns home to Ethiopia. That country’s government has said he would be treated like a hero.
American basketball stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul recently spoke about the subject of athlete protest. They said professional athletes should speak when they see something about society they do not like.
“We all have to do better,” James said.
Ricky Jean-Francois is an NFL player for the Washington Redskins. He told VOA that he agreed: Athletes should not stay silent.
”Each and every other day, we’re talking about change. But if nobody’s voicing their opinion, or no one’s taking action, we get screamed at each and every other day and nothing’ll be done. So now, as you can see, slowly but surely, things are changing, things are being brought to attention. Topics are not being washed away no more. Now they’re here. So hopefully as time goes on, things will change with that.”
All of Kaepernick’s protests came during exhibition games. Many people are curious what will happen before San Francisco’s first game of the new season on Monday night.
Recent news reports say that players from another NFL team are considering a protest. Jeremy Lane, a player for the Seattle Seahawks, did not stand during the anthem before his team’s last game.
Seattle plays Sunday. Bobby Wagner is a Seattle player. Wagner told reporters in Seattle all of the players would do something together.
“The world needs to see people coming together versus being individuals,” Wagner said.
Kaepernick said he would give money to human rights groups. He promised $1 million of his earnings this season. He also said he would donate the money that comes from the sales of shirts with his name.
Late in the week, San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said the team would also donate $1 million to two local organizations. They work on solving the racial and economic inequality in the area.
I’m Dan Friedell. And I’m Caty Weaver.
Words in This Story
anthem – n. a formal song of loyalty, praise, or happiness
high-profile – adj. attracting a lot of attention in newspapers, on television, etc.
adopt – v. to take a child of other parents legally as your own child
legitimate - adj. real, accepted or official
generate – v. to produce (something) or cause (something) to be produced
messy – adj. not clean or tidy
versus – prep. used to indicate two different things, choices, etc., that are being compared or considered
medal – n. a piece of metal often in the form of a coin with designs and words in honor of a special event, a person, or an achievement
conversation – n. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people : the act of talking in an informal way
topic – n. someone or something that people talk or write about
appreciate – v. to be aware of (something) : to recognize or understand (something)