Van Ens: Black and white reactions to taking a knee during national anthem (column) |

Van Ens: Black and white reactions to taking a knee during national anthem (column)

Jack Van Ens

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started protesting inner-city police brutality against black men more than a year ago by kneeling during the national anthem. Prior to games on Sunday, Sept. 24, hundreds of NFL players joined this cause. They locked arms, knelt, sat or stayed in locker rooms during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

President Donald Trump unleashed a firestorm against Kaepernick and players who took a knee with him. The president pivoted from racist inner-city policing policies. He turned taking knee into an unpatriotic act against Old Glory, the national anthem and those whose loyalty to our country “makes America great.” As a white American, Trump regards taking a knee as disrespect toward preserving, protecting and perpetuating patriotism.

Who’s right? It depends on the lens through which we see this issue. Blacks view kneeling as a protest posture against racial injustice. Trump, along with many conservative white football fans, see taking a knee as an insult to our nation’s virtues.

Each side starts at a different point. Consequently, they yell past each other.

Colin Kaepernick is a Christian who isn’t afraid to put faith into action, even if it leads to job insecurity. His Judeo-Christian ethic fosters justice for all. He presses for equal protection under the law for inner-city blacks and fairness toward them in our judicial system.

Kaepernick doesn’t flinch from answering a biblical sage’s call to “speak out, judge fairly and defend the rights of the oppressed and needy people” (Proverbs 31:9). Jewish Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel made a controversial appeal rooted in scripture. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Kaepernick kneels before this imperative.

He was born to a white single mother in Wisconsin but never knew his black father. Adopted by white parents, he moved to California as a 4-year-old. There, he grew up in white society with a Caucasian brother and sister. Although his birth mother is white, Kaepernick is dark-skinned. Most football fans think he’s black.

After starting at quarterback four years at the University of Nevada, Kaepernick was drafted in the second round and eventually took the 49ers to the Super Bowl. He’s paid a stern price for protesting police injustice against blacks. Now a free agent, no NFL team has signed him.

Trump also blasted Golden State Warriors basketball star Stephen Curry in a tweet and withdrew his White House invitation to the NBA champions. Warrior head coach Steve Kerr sided with his star. “… We got Trump’s comments over the weekend about NFL players, calling them ‘sons of b-tches’ for kneeling during the anthem. Those just crushed me. Crushed me. Just think about what those players are protesting. They’re protesting excessive police violence and racial inequality,” Kerr declared. “Those are really good things to fight against. And they’re doing it in a nonviolent way.” (Sports Illustrated, “Bring us together,” Oct. 2, 2017, p. 29).

The president riles his base against taking a knee before the national anthem in a sport that thrives, despite a black/white divide. “The NFL is one of the most culturally conservative professional leagues, and it has arguably the trickiest relationship with race. It is a sport in which mostly white fans pay to watch mostly black (some 70 percent of players are African American) athletes pummel each other” (Time Magazine, p. 37, Oct. 9, 2017).

Because NFL quarterbacks get banged up, Colin Kaepernick ranks tops in the league as a backup. But with 30 of the 31 football club owners being white, he’s sacked without an offer to play. Working for justice is as risky as playing in the NFL.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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