Football players kneeling during the national anthem is nothing new, but it’s been in the headlines after Donald Trump spoke on the subject last week. The president took the stage during a rally in Alabama and told the crowd that he’d love for an owner to fire any “son of a bitch” who who “disrespects our flag” by kneeling.
Of course, kneeling during the anthem is not an attempt to disrespect the flag, it’s a way to raise awareness of racial injustice in America. Colin Kaepernick literally said “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” when he was first asked about it last year. But the conversation around the flag has turned into “if you kneel, you are disrespecting our military,” because it is much easier to put the conversation in those terms than to address what players like Kaepernick and the like want to discuss.
That was evident during Sunday’s game between the Ravens and the Steelers. The game is in Baltimore, and as Ravens players dropped to a knee, the crowd booed heartily.
Here’s the catch, though: The Ravens didn’t actually kneel for the anthem. As Deadspin noted, the team stood as the song played, but dropped down to a knee for a moment of prayer in the name of “kindness, unity, equality and justice for all Americans.” While fans cheered after that moment of prayer was announced, they booed for the action of taking a knee, which was used as a sign of unity among the team, rather than a way to protest anything.
This wasn’t just something that happened in Baltimore, as New Yorkers weren’t happy with Jets players doing something similar, either.
If these two moments indicate anything, it’s that the conversation around kneeling has gotten so far off the rails that taking a knee for anything prior to a game is viewed as disrespecting the flag. As Ravens and Jets fans showed, the national anthem doesn’t have to be playing for this to be the case.