On Bended Knee
A pair of articles in the December issue provided differing perspectives on the NFL anthem protests.
The players are silently, respectfully using their power to express support for the idea—which should be self-evident and noncontroversial!—that innocent people are suffering violence, that a disproportionate number of those people are black, and that our country should stop this.
The NFL and the military have made an uncalled-for alliance in recent years, seeking to identify football with the armed services, and both with patriotism. Fans who don’t understand the distinction will agree with the NFL owners who equate the protests with disrespect for the country, but those fans need to stop and disentangle the ideas.
Actually, our country is great because citizens can express their opinions, respectfully, even when those opinions are unpopular with those in power. Joan Passarelli, ’84
Mountain View, California
1. The protest has no end. The laws that protect rights and equality are on the books already. There will always be some prejudiced jerks in the world; kneeling will not change their minds.
2. The protest is actually counterproductive because it inflames the very people it should be aimed at—conservatives, law enforcement, military.
3. The protest is now simply a tool for political division that serves to keep the status quo in place.
4. I just want to watch football and not talk about politics.
Randall Eike, MS ’94
San Jose, California
I don’t want the players’ opinions on anything except the joy of the game.
John Riedel, ’72
Narragansett, Rhode Island
Patriotic display ought not be enforced on private persons: not the players, not the fans, not the league.
Richard Gorin, ’74
San Diego, California
I was delighted to read the thoughtful views of my former students Richard Sherman, ’10, and Coby Fleener, ’11, MA ’12. But when it comes to explicating the issue of why people kneel, you completely missed the mark. Where was the interview with someone who actually kneels? Where was the reporting of what it feels like to be a black athlete whose workplace requires you to stand up for the anthem and flag of a nation increasingly violent toward people with brown skin?
Being made to stand for an anthem to a nation that claims to be about liberty and justice for all but that routinely falls short, particularly when it comes to the liberty of black people, is subjugation. I feel dread when I hear the anthem these days, and dismay when I see others stand by rote instinct and put their hand over their heart. This is not an anthem to our troops—many of whom are black and brown and face kinder treatment abroad than they do at home—it’s an anthem with a racist third verse about a nation that was built upon the supremacy of whiteness and that to this day treats people with brown skin as inferiors. To be made by your so-called owner to stand as it plays is the antithesis of liberty. I wish this magazine had had the courage to print that perspective in its pages.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, ’89
Palo Alto, California
I support the NFL players who knelt during the anthem. Unfortunately, all black players throughout the league did not kneel. It should have spread to colleges and high schools. In fact, given the tortured, completely racist history of the country, there is no reason for any African-American to stand for the anthem. Any real study of American history (even up to the present) discloses that there is nothing, nothing, more fundamentally American than racism.
David Talley, JD ’77, MBA ’82
In 1970, I began sitting during the anthem at all sporting events. Many students—mostly black—did likewise at Stanford football games. We were protesting discrimination and the Vietnam War.
Deborah Sanderson, ’72, MA ’73
Menlo Park, California
Our country comes closer to meeting our ideals by tolerating political dissent, not by squelching it. Standing for the national anthem should be a choice. The act of sitting does not interfere with the performance of the anthem, nor does it interfere with anyone else’s ability to stand.
David Barth, ’97
In my opinion, the fundamental issue is not what the NFL players are protesting. The issue is that they are protesting in uniform and on “company time.” NFL players are paid to play football, not to promote or protest social or political positions. By protesting on company time, NFL players are subverting the interests of their employers and of the league. Fans aren’t buying more tickets or NFL paraphernalia in response to these protests. Quite the contrary.
Stephen Brewer, ’66
Kansas City, Missouri
It’s really pretty simple. If I were to use my job time to protest something not related to my employment, I’d find myself looking for a new job pretty quickly.
Larry Cohen, PhD ’91
People should have a right to express themselves as long as it doesn’t directly interfere with their job.
Mark Pearson, ’01
San Francisco, California
Athletic events are heavily watched and an excellent venue for players to express themselves. They put their bodies on the line; they have minds and opinions too.
Margaret O’Shea, ’88
Santa Cruz, California
Should they choose to do so, today’s millionaire athletes could combat injustice by helping create wealth where it is needed most and enabling more people to pursue the American dream. Will they use their media megaphones merely to protest while living in luxury? Or will they find ways to give back not only by contributing to charities and causes like helping people recover from natural disasters, but also by helping people help themselves by rebuilding communities that have been neglected for so long?
Barry Stern, PhD ’72
These players feel that so much power has been taken from them and their communities that this symbolic action is the only thing left to them. If that is true, we should listen to what they have to say, rather than react viscerally.
Christian Garnett, ’07
Mount Kisco, New York
The players have a platform that allows them to reach an enormous audience. Calling attention to racism and police violence before such a large audience is an opportunity that most people don’t have, and if the players feel strongly about the issues, they should be admired for speaking out about them, all the more because they are risking their jobs and possibly their safety.
Jim Whitehead, ’68
I am a police officer, and these protests have emboldened anti-law enforcement rhetoric. I have seen the protests encourage ambushes and attacks on police officers without any provocation other than to attack the person wearing the uniform.
Tom Stilson, ’09
I support the message of the protest as well as the method. Black people are being murdered by police with impunity, and it is because of this country’s racist history, which still permeates this nation’s conscience. Players using their platform to call attention to injustice should be supported because protesting is not only their right but a true act of patriotism.
Chelsey Birgisdottir, ’15
San Diego, California
I spent 27 years in the U.S. Navy to defend the rights of individuals to protest ideas and systems in our country but not to denigrate our flag and those who give their lives to defend it.
Steven K. Whitney, ’63
I spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy to protect rights like free speech.
Pat Crandall, ’73
As a 20-year Navy veteran, I am wont to stand at attention and salute the flag during the national anthem, an honor that I continue to render in my retirement. I have fought for—and I continue to support—American ideals, including the rights to free speech and peaceful protest. I do not find the NFL players’ protest disrespectful to our anthem, our flag or our military in any way. Indeed, its purpose is to bring attention to pervasive inequities in our society. This, too, I fully support.
Scott McCarty, ’76
People of all religions attend services where kneeling is a sign of respect and humility. As a veteran (U.S. Army, 1957-69), I do not take offense at someone kneeling to show respect. What I do take offense at is, after a particularly beautiful rendition of a patriotic song, a bunch of red-hat people, some old enough to be veterans, giving the Hitler salute.
David J. Dumin, PhD ’65
Saint Petersburg, Florida
Donald Trump’s response to NFL players’ taking a knee has changed my perception of the flag and the national anthem from national patriotic symbols to partisan political ones. As an Army veteran (1961-63), I will not be told how to respond to either symbol by a draft-dodging demagogue whose rhetoric undermines both the Constitution and the nation’s commitment to the rule of law. I tend to agree with Andrew Friedman regarding the probable effectiveness of the players’ protest, but in my view the president has shown more disrespect for the flag and the anthem than the NFL players taking a knee.
John M. Gates, ’59, MA ’60
As a retired military officer, I am personally insulted at the kneelers’ disrespect for our flag and our country.
John N. Gordon, PhD ’71
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
I think the ability to protest, especially government overreach or inaction, is about as American as it gets. No one is protesting the military. They are protesting the inaction of our government in response to the bias that threatens the lives of youth of color daily.
Cindy Thomas Archer, ’87
Long Beach, California
I view the protests as disrespectful to the multitude of men and women who have fought and died to protect the freedoms we hold dear. I respect the struggles, barriers and injustice that continue to exist in our society and around the world, but there are better and more appropriate ways to bring attention and change.
Brian Morris, ’97
It’s a public forum. Where better to express your opinion? Those who object to the time and place (as if that were more important than the issue) have forgotten how we founded our country and the American tradition of free speech.
Charles Bragg, ’67
Pacific Palisades, California
Making others uncomfortable by drawing attention to social issues is the first step on a journey to fixing those underlying issues. Are there other ways this could be done? Absolutely. But those might not be as visible or provoking.
Neil Feldman, ’88
The protests are ineffective as they do not directly affect the issue, unlike a bus boycott. They cause division where concerted cooperation is needed. All flash, no substance.
Bob Avakian, MS ’70
Kneeling during the national anthem is a protest of America and its principles. It’s those principles that allow all citizens to have a say in American society. It’s those principles that allow NFL players to bring about change by voting, protesting, running for office, writing articles, speaking in public or giving money to organizations to promote their values. The NFL players should respect the principles of America that allow them to make changes to society. Their protests are misplaced.
Bob Zeidman, MS ’82
It is possible to both be a patriot and decry state-supported violence against segments of our community.
Eric Abrams, ’85
There is no reason to play the national anthem at pro football games. The flag salute is a logical way to begin city council meetings and sessions of Congress, because important government business is conducted there. But pro football is nothing more than entertainment. It is inconsequential that a few players kneel for the anthem in protest of incidents of police shooting unarmed black men. The setting of a football game, in a stadium with so many intoxicated fans present, as a good venue for playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” shows a much more serious disrespect for the flag.
Robin Keeney, JD ’70
San Rafael, California
If there is one thing the two sides agree on, it is that the national anthem is a symbolic representation of the country.
I disagree with those who kneel, because I do not think this country as a whole represents racial discrimination and injustice.
True, there are instances of such discrimination and injustice, and there will always be people who are racist, just as there will always be those who believe we really didn’t land people on the moon or that the attack on the twin towers was a government plot to bring the nation together to oppose Islam.
But to single out the anthem as the symbol of injustice and discrimination is to disregard all the powerful changes that have occurred for the bettering of race relations since the time the country was founded, not to mention all the other good things about this country that have thousands of people from other nations who will try so hard to get into the United States. Also, it seems a slap in the face of all the good people who have fought, both literally and figuratively, to make those improvements. For those who can’t imagine that there are others who believe that this kneeling is truly disrespectful to this great country, I can attribute it only to the current political divisions, which have turned from “I disagree with you but respect your right to disagree” to the new mantra of “I am right and you are crazy.”
True, we as a nation are not perfect and, in my opinion, never will be, but still we can do better. Rather than kneeling against a symbol of the best—but not perfect—country on the globe, why not write letters to the editor, back political candidates or even offer workable alternatives to present problems, as these athletes have the name recognition, financial means and personal influence to do.
For when you come right down to the final outcome of this taking-a-knee issue, all we have is a more divided country that has made no changes in the more than two years since [the protests] started to correct the issues the kneelers hoped to highlight. For what those athletes hoped to do, this method has failed miserably at uniting the nation to their cause.
Jeff Schrepple, MS ’85
Football teams, even the best in the world, practice every day because they know they need to get better. Countries, even the best in the world, also can improve.
The protesters feel that all men are created equal, that life and liberty are unalienable rights, and that the United States doesn’t always live up to those promises. Their critics would rather defend the symbols (the flag and the anthem) than defend the actual rights and freedoms that those symbols stand for, which doesn’t make sense to me.
Protests make people uncomfortable. A lot of people were uncomfortable when Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus. A lot of people were uncomfortable when blacks in Birmingham sat at lunch-counter spots reserved for whites. Change never happens without the people in power being upset and feeling disrespected. That doesn’t make it bad to seek that change, however.
Chris Crader, ’89
While I admire the idealism of Mr. Friedman’s libertarian values, his call to allow “nuanced conversation” to resolve pernicious racial inequality misses the mark. He and I are both part of the dominant white establishment. If such nuance does not result in adequate redress of the issue, he and I will not suffer the consequences directly. Hence the need for ongoing declaratory actions that resist the tendencies of the privileged establishment to maintain the status quo.
George Collyer, ’82
If kneeling is considered appropriate to worship God in a Protestant church, then what harm can such an action elicit on a football field, save communicate that Jim Crow is still alive and well in America?
Brenda Young, ’76
Kneeling is a nonviolent and nondestructive form of bringing attention to the issue of police brutality. Calls for unity (translation: the quiet acceptance of injustice) are not only misguided but also un-American.
Nathan Dadap, PhD student
Taking a knee is what you do when a player is down. It’s a show of respect in anticipation of the injured player being OK. When police brutality is addressed, when those in law enforcement with a history of racial bias are removed from the force, when new officers are trained on how to prevent racial profiling and rewarded for treating all citizens equally, and when society in general stops denying that there is a problem, then maybe taking a knee won’t be necessary. But—perhaps most important—[determining that] the protest is no longer necessary is not up to me.
Jill Pepper, ’93
Rather than “standing for the anthem,” as Andrew Friedman urges us to do, why not stand—or sit or kneel—for what the anthem stands for?
In my book, and that of many others, kneeling is a very respectful stance (think kneeling before royalty, kneeling in prayer, kneeling to propose marriage). The suggestion that kneeling conveys disrespect is manufactured politics. The notion that kneeling at NFL games has anything to do with the military is preposterous politics.
Let’s focus on America the Beautiful, and make it so. We have a ways to go.
Michael S. Knapp, MA ’79, PhD ’81
Andrew Friedman might get a clearer understanding of his subject if he were to read the text of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a song about blood, bombs, destruction, conquest and the havoc of war—there’s no allusion to “unity” or any other social benefit.
It’s also junk poetry and difficult music.
Kevin Brown, ’66
There is nothing sacrosanct about the national anthem or the U.S. flag. They are symbols that belong to everyone and to no one. Their meanings are not intrinsic. Furthermore, the kneeling was very effective. As long as we continue to talk about the gesture, we must talk about the injustice that inspired it. A prime-time NFL game is a bully pulpit for citizens whose time before the microphone is typically limited to spouting sports platitudes. Articulate and provocative silence is a much better use of their moment. I say, kneel on!
David Roth, ’76
The Serra Question
As reported in our December issue, Stanford is removing three campus references to Junípero Serra.
As Serra’s canonization tells one more about the Roman Catholic Church than about Serra, Stanford’s petty move says more about Stanford than about Serra.
In the 1770s, as Serra’s starving band of missionaries was colonizing California, Jefferson was writing “all men are created equal.” He owned hundreds of other human beings. Shall we expunge his name? Ditto for big George.
The Stanford fortune was largely derived from hundreds of square miles of stolen Indian land “granted” to the Central Pacific by the U.S. government. Will Stanford convene a committee to rename the university? I wouldn’t be surprised.
The California Indians who objected to Serra’s canonization had a point. But I suggest that they should also be thankful that their ancestors were colonized by the Spanish. They endured harsh treatment, but if the Americans had arrived first, the vast majority would have met the fate of 90 percent of the natives of the United States and Canada: death.
My point is that human history is a fascinating tapestry of good, middling and bad. Study it, and enjoy and learn from it. But don’t flatter your 21st-century ego by denouncing people from an era you could never comprehend.
Raymond Masson, ’66
Ruan County, Clare, Ireland
I am not sure about Serra and his misconduct, but I do know about Senator Stanford and his.
The university is located on land that a nonindigenous government took from the native inhabitants without paying any compensation. Down the line, Stanford bought it, evidently not concerned about any injustice to the Native Americans. Because of this injustice, maybe the University should do the proper thing and return this land to the Native Americans from which it was taken.
I am also going to suggest that the university consider changing the university name from Leland Stanford Junior University to some other name. For, after all, Senator Stanford terribly mistreated the Chinese workers on whose shoulders he built his railroad and much of his considerable wealth.
There may or may not be two sides to the Serra issue. However, to me, there is just one side to Stanford, and this side is not fair to Native Americans or the Chinese immigrants.
Stan Carmichael, ’60
Westlake Village, California
The university administration has crumbled under the pressure of progressive social justice crusaders.
Bill Marshall, ’76, MS ’77
Lake Oswego, Oregon
It is difficult to understand how an individual living today could feel “harmed” by monuments to an individual who died 234 years ago. History must be evaluated in context to the time period in which it occurred. In an open and inclusive society, we shouldn’t try to change or erase our history, but rather our history should be open to diverse thought and discussion so we may learn from our past and continue to grow.
Tom Kennedy, ’80
A December story recapped the career of human biology professor Bill Durham, ’71.
What a delight to read “The Durham Download.” I still picture Professor Durham squeezing inside an empty shell, extremities askew, to demonstrate how large the turtles were on the Galápagos. He would go that extra mile to illustrate a point, using unmatched humor and storytelling.
Lynne Foltz, MA ’76
Silver Spring, Maryland
A recent timeline celebrated 100 years of Roble Hall.
I never thought I’d become old enough to be one of those alums who sends in history-correction letters to the editor. Here goes. The opening line of your wonderful story on Roble Hall was inaccurate: “Stanford’s oldest continuously operating student residence, Roble Hall, turned 100 this fall.” In fact, Roble stopped operating continuously at the start of winter break in 1987, when it was “condemned” for not being earthquake-proof, as your story notes toward the end.
Linda Dodge Reid, ’88
Palos Verdes Estates, California
And the Dish Learned of This from the Moon
A story in the July issue recounted little-known facts about Stanford’s iconic radio telescope.
Sorry to chime in late, but a CIA employee who also happens to be a Stanford alum recently flagged for us the great article “What You Don’t Know About the Dish.” We wanted to make your alumni aware of another fact about the Dish most people probably don’t know: Although this was classified for more than 30 years, the Dish played a key role in the CIA’s Cold War-era Moon Bounce Project, which gathered intelligence on Soviet antiballistic missile radars by looking for signals reflected off the moon. Soviet radar operators directed their instruments at the moon for practice, and Stanford’s Dish was able to capture these signals using specially designed collection equipment.
Sara Lichterman, CIA Spokesperson
These letters include those published in the print edition of Stanford as well as those published exclusively online.