National anthem protests have engulfed the lead storyline in the news for over a year now. However, recent tweets by President Donald Trump have put an even more pervasive spotlight on the situation. Across the country professional athletes have been kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem as a form of protest against racial discrimination. Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began the movement in 2016 claiming that he would not stand for a flag that represented the oppression of people of color and the ongoing concern of police brutality.
“I believe that people should have a right to stand up or “kneel” for what they believe in. I don’t think they are trying to disrespect the flag or even America, they just want to be heard and everyone deserves to have that right” said Kiersten Richardson, a senior student-athlete.
After recently becoming a national story, colleges have begun to put into action plans or responses to kneeling within college athletics. Florida State’s football coach Jimbo Fisher proclaimed that people have the freedom to express themselves. Currently nothing has formally come from the university’s administration or athletic administration on their standpoint of whether or not they feel kneeling is appropriate within Virginia Wesleyan University’s athletics.
“I think for me as an athletic director we as a department and the student athletes have always been able to communicate pretty well together and understand for the most part about how people feel about things. The anthem, I think, is a bit more personal for a variety of reasons,” said Joanne Renn, Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Sophomore student athlete Madison Glaubke agreed with Coach Renn but reinforced the idea that people are allowed to express their opinions.
“I think that it’s disrespectful only because people fight for our freedom so that we are able to participate or attend college sports. Yes, I believe people are entitled to do whatever they please, but people go out risking their lives to protect us and make sure that we are safe” said Glaubke.
Renn was adamant that protest during the National Anthem only makes the issue worse.
“Here is the most important thing: I think it strengthens the negativity and the divide that is in our culture. It is part of the divide not part of the solution. And as I lead the athletic department, that is what I try to stand on. Whatever the issue is are we trying to solve it or are we perpetuating the problem” said Renn.
Renn emphasizes that she does want to offer help for the issue. She uses a reference to the Kenn State Men’s Basketball team.
“I want to help with the actual issue. Kent State Men’s Basketball team goes into the crowd; they leave the court when the Star Spangled Banner is getting ready to be played and they stand next to someone different than they are. And it is just a sign of unity that we can do this if we just listen and understand each other. I would love to do something like here as we move forward,” Renn said.
There are other solutions proposed by Renn. She recommends taking the same stance as the soccer team and rather than standing by yourself, stand with your opponent and honor America together as one.
“One minute and twenty-eight seconds, that’s all the anthem is. And if we can all come together as a country for one minute and twenty-eight seconds instead of trying to find a way to divide, I think we can move forward at least at Virginia Wesleyan. Let’s get it done together,” Renn said.