Van Ens: NFL fumbles at taking a knee (column) |

Van Ens: NFL fumbles at taking a knee (column)

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stayed seated on a bench in 2016 during the “Star Spangled Banner.” He used this body language to protest racial profiling and excessive, brutal police force against African-Americans.

The mostly white NFL owners blew the whistle on remaining seated or kneeling during the national anthem. They declared such protests out-of-bounds. Before suspending this policy on July 19, of forcing all NFL personnel to stand during the anthem, owners allowed players to invisibly protest by staying in the locker room.

From the start, Kaepernick clearly articulated that taking a knee wasn’t meant to demean Old Glory or spurn stout-hearted patriotism. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” declared Kaepernick in an interview with

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

A practicing Christian, Kaepernick puts into action the biblical teaching to “… loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke (of unfair treatment)” (Isaiah 58:6).

White NFL owners find themselves in a sticky mess. Their player rosters are top-heavy with African-Americans.

On the opposite side is a large white fan bloc that supports President Donald Trump. They admire flag waving and use military lingo to describe violent hits on the field, such as “sacking” a quarterback.

The president whipped them into a frenzy with two rapid-fire tweets on Aug. 10. “Numerous players, from different teams,” mistakenly asserted President Trump, “wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define.” He’s wrong because Kaepernick first declared that taking a knee wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction against the national anthem.

Trump tweeted an ultimatum: “Stand proudly for your national anthem or be suspended without pay.” He distorts the players’ protest of racist, excessive police force into a patriotic litmus test.

Traditionally, NFL owners have mixed the military and patriotism with playing pro football. Such sales gimmicks increase fans’ enthusiasm and make lots of money.

In 2015, Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain reported “that the Pentagon had paid the NFL nearly $7 million for salutes, color guards, anthems and more during games. The Pentagon and the NFL both say they’ve cut it out since,” reports The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Bruenig.

President Trump blurs the difference between protesting for racial justice and taking a knee, calling it a slap in the face to the national anthem. He manipulates words, blurring contours and edges of what’s debated, like Leonardo Da Vinci pioneering sfumato, a painting technique that softens people’s profiles and landscape boundaries.

“The term sfumato derives from the Italian word for ‘smoke’ or, more precisely, the dissipation and gradual vanishing of smoke into the air. ‘Your shadows and lights should be blended without lines or borders in the manner of smoke losing itself in the air,’ he (Da Vinci) wrote in a series of maxims for young painters (“Leonardo Da Vinci,” Walter Isaacson, Sion & Schuster 2017, p. 41).

Similarly, the president’s outrage against football players taking a knee goes “poof.” Yes, Trump ignites fire in the bellies of die-hard white fans. But his argument turns smoky, opaque and drifts, measured against Colin Kaepernick’s protest.

Clear your minds of Trump’s intellectual congestion. Don’t breathe fumes of the president’s smoking condemnation of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

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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