The First Amendment of the United States Constitution references freedom of speech. Prior to the commencement of the 2016 National Football League season, I composed an article describing Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice and oppression. He also took a knee during the Star Spangled Banner. As a result of his actions and protests, he is no longer employed by the NFL. I am almost positive that no team wants him on their team, because they are afraid of the backlash and firestorm that will come with his signing. I also think he has been blackballed by the league because of his harsh, but real opinions.

Fellow players and team owners distanced themselves from discussing the issue, but that all changed on September 22, 2017. In this article, I will do my best to discuss what was said that day, what is currently happening, not only in the NFL, but also in the NBA, to an extent, as it relates to protests because of Donald Trump’s verbiage. But, first, I would like to talk a little about a few past sports protests. Please bear in mind, that politics is not my strong point, but the protests are big talking points in all the major professional sports.

According to a History website article titled “This Day in History: April 28, 1967” the late, great former boxer, Muhammed Ali, declined an invitation to be drafted into the Army for participation in the Vietnam War. He indicated that the refusal was because of his religious beliefs, and said “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” Unfortunately, that decision led to a fine of $10,000, a boxing ban of three years, and five years in prison. This was quite unfortunate, but the boxer was not about to change his mind. I agree with Ali – if he did not want to participate in a war, he should not have had to. He should not have been fined and banned from boxing for making a decision with which he was comfortable.

A year later, Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter race, stood up at the podium. According to a Globe and Mail article written by Cathal Kelly in September 2016; the medalists “raised their black-gloved fists in protest during the U.S. National Anthem.” That action triggered a major firestorm. As a result, they were stripped of their medals for taking a stand for their beliefs – equality. Carlos would later say that what one does in life is more important than winning a medal. Like Ali, Carlos stuck with his belief. He did not allow the actions of others to deter him for standing up for what he believed was right. Those who have high profiles must be prepared to help make the necessary change. It is only then, that change will transpire.

In 2004, former Toronto Blue Jays player, Carlos Delgado, refused to rise for a rendition of “God Bless America.” This was done in New York, to protest the United States’ invasion of Iraq and other foreign wars. According to a New York Times article published on July 21, 2004, the player chose to not be on the field during the song, and that angered the New York faithful. Yet, in the twilight of his career, he was welcomed with open arms to the New York Mets organization.

Most recently, the Houston Astros won the World Series, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. It will be interesting to see if some or all of the players decide to visit the White House to celebrate. I am sure that is on the minds of sports journalists.

At a campaign rally in Alabama, held on September 22, 2017, Donald Trump talked about a variety of topics, but the one he ranted on the most was the NFL – specifically about the players who knelt during the anthem. He stated that by doing so, the players were disrespecting the country. Then, he went on to say something, that I thought was out of line. He believes that owners should fire players who protest the anthem. Why should owners do something like that? America thrives on democracy. If owners were to follow what Trump is saying, then the players would lose their rights as human beings.

During the plethora of games played two days later, fans witnessed many players on different teams, linking arms and taking a knee prior to the Star Spangled Banner in protest of racial inequality and racial injustices. However, while some in the crowd followed suit and linked arms, others did the unthinkable, and left the game they paid to attend. They did not agree with what was transpiring. Even some team owners participated in the protests with their teams.

On October 8, 2017, the Indianapolis Colts played the San Francisco 49ers. Prior to the game, the Colts honored their former quarterback, Peyton Manning. The U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence was in attendance, to support his friend. During the playing of the anthem, some members of the 49ers took a knee, which caused Pence to leave, stating he would not support such a thing. Now, I would understand if he chose to leave because the Manning ceremony was finished. But, he chose to vacate because he did not agree with the players doing, what they felt was right.

I am sure over the remaining months in the NFL season, these protests will continue in varying forms. But, I am curious to see how the league handles this during its biggest game of the year – the Superbowl, when more eyes will be on the game, than any other throughout the year. But, the protests have not just occurred in the NFL. They have also carried over to the National Basketball Association.

Those who follow the league know about Lebron James and his dislike of the Trump administration. The same can be said for Stephen Curry and the majority of the league. When Curry and the Golden State Warriors won the 2016-2017 NBA Championship, it provided them with an opportunity to visit the White House. Usually, a championship team would jump at the chance. But, Steph made it clear that he would not attend, as he does not agree with the current president’s divisive ways. Trump then, rescinded the invitation, making people believe it was his decision to no longer invite the NBA Champions, even though that was never the case.

I would like to conclude by stating that people have the right to protest, and the right to freedom of expression. The protests by players, a few owners in the NFL, and a few NBA players, are non-violent. Therefore, I really cannot comprehend why Trump is paying so much attention to this, as there are more important problems in the world. I know that NFL and the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) are having ongoing discussions regarding ways to better deal with social justice issues. However, despite the conclusions that may eventually be reached between the two sides, I am sure some players will still continue their “kneeling protest.”

This issue will not be going away anytime soon – in fact I think it will always be there. But, I believe the only way to solve a problem like this, is to work together. Fans want players and sports broadcasters to stick to sports. But, how can that happen when the injustices continue to occur. While fans want to watch the hard-hitting NFL action on a weekly basis, I think a vast majority will stand up with those who support equality for all.

The world needs to change. Too much wrong is transpiring. It is my hope, wish and prayer, that one day we will live in a peaceful universe where we are free to voice our opinions, support those who are victimized and to bring about change, without being alienated. I have been bullied for years. I am doing my part to make a difference and prevent others from experiencing what I went through. What can you do? Be like a Lebron James, a Muhammed Ali, and those who are not afraid and stand up for what you believe in.

Azeem Kayum

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