KNEEL OR FALL
It’s 6:00pm eastern standard time in College Park Maryland. You have not experienced cold until you’ve sat outside for three-four hours in October at a college football game. Decked out in a flashy gold University of Maryland tracksuit, smelling like the cheapest bottle of Axe men’s cologne, football alumni Sam Rogers was ready for the game. Rogers was sporting a pair of neon colored Under Armour compression tights with a blood orange long sleeve shirt and Maryland’s signature charcoal grey flag socks to assure no chance of catching any brisk draft creeping his way. He was not the only one suited in their game day best. We were surrounded in a sea of red, gold, black and white UMD paraphernalia. As the opening kickoff was underway, Rogers peers out into the crowd and says, “It feels good to be home”.
Rogers has been playing football since age five and is in tune with the recent taking the knee controversy that is driving audiences away from the NFL. “Kaepernick kneeling is not disrespecting the American flag, it is raising awareness and protesting social injustice and police brutality,” he says. His viewpoint on the situation is certainly pro-Kaepernick. He understands both the cause and the effects of the protests. He agrees with Kaepernick’s stance and suggests that he is making great strides for the African American community. “I would have protested probably the exact same way. Kaepernick is shaking things up and waking people up. That’s what America needs right now.”
Rogers is one of three boys, all of whom play football. His older brother, Ben Rogers, also graduated from the University of Maryland and then went on to play two seasons in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers. His younger brother Cameron is dominating the High school league playing the same positions as his older brothers. Rogers received a full scholarship to play football at the University of Maryland College Park. The scholarship paid the tuition to attend the school, books, housing, and meal plans. The Roger boys come from a family that values respect, equality, passion, and honor. “God, Family, Football. That’s what I say and that’s how I live,” he says. He claims that he is comfortable within his religion and feels he can always rely on God if ever he faces adversity or negativity. He finds that being a black man in America, adversity and negativity are constantly at his front doorstep. “This country was built by black folk but not built for black folk, and Kaepernick is reminding us of that.”
Rogers is able to identify with and appreciates Colin Kaepernick’s mission. The New York Times refers to Kaepernick as “the most polarizing figure in American sports” because he decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and many other injustices. Kaepernick began his protest by initially sitting on the bench during the national anthem. Then, former Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer had a conversation with Kaepernick and expressed his disappointment with him sitting during the anthem. He told him that it appeared disrespectful to the American flag. Kaepernick then expressed to Boyer that he had no intention of disrespecting the flag and that his sole purpose of sitting was to protest social injustice and police brutality. Boyer and Kaepernick ultimately came to an agreement that if Colin wanted to protest, kneeling would be better than sitting, and thus forth the movement arose.
The effects of Kaepernick’s protest trickles down far beyond just the NFL. The protest affects every football player in the country. From the five-year-olds in the Pop Warner league to the elementary, middle and high school players with dreams and aspirations of becoming the next football superstar. However, the response the NFL commissioner’s office gave Kaepernick is perhaps now deterring future football players from trying to join the league. “My little brother takes a knee when they sing the national anthem at his games. He says that most of the black guys on the team do.” Kaepernick received horrible backlash from the NFL commissioner and was eventually, unofficial, kicked out of the NFL. “I fell in love with football when I was about seven-years-old. That love has never died down or gone away.” Rogers claims that he is unmoved in his emotions and feelings towards football.
“I don’t think the Kaepernick situation has hindered my NFL Dreams at all. I was always taught to follow my dreams no matter the circumstances. The rush I get when that first punt is made and our team scores a touchdown is out of body experience. There are really no words to describe the feeling. Football has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, way before politics entered the scene. If still giving the chance, I’d be all in for a career in the NFL despite the latest controversy. At the end of the day once you run on that field and strap up the helmet, football is football, business as usual,” says Rogers. “Of course everyone wants to play football to become rich and famous, but I would play for free!”
The money involved in Kaepernick’s movement is certainly a factor to be considered when assessing the situation. Kaepernick is a 7-year veteran of the NFL. Even though he led his team to the 2012 Super Bowl he has not played a game since January 2016. That decision, made by the NFL has a domino effect on all parties involved. It affects Kaepernick’s personal income, and the publicity received from the story might negatively affect the finances of the entire 49ers franchise. Ultimately this might decrease revenue in the league itself. Television ratings of NFL Sunday night football games have already dropped 17% within the last year. (CBSNews) If consumers are not watching the games they also are not watching the advertisements. Which ultimately means a major loss of income for the networks. What if prominent sponsors of the NFL such as Nike and Gatorade were to empathize with Kaepernick and decide to cease funding to the organization? That would affect owners, coaches, and players all around the country and the potential demise of an empire.
After the protests began Kaepernick became a free agent which means he was not signed to a team. Since then, no team has picked him up. The reason behind that seems to be coming from the commissioner’s office. Perhaps team owners did not want their team to be associated with the controversy. Or perhaps team owners were simply instructed not to sign him. The world may never know. “He should fight to get back onto a team. There is something to be said about how sneaky the commissioner is being about firing Kaepernick. If you’re going to kick him out then just say it! He’s a grown man, he can take it,” says Rogers.
“As far as I know, America remains a free country which entitles people to freedom of speech. I have no problem with kneeling in efforts to protest an injustice, especially if it’s in a peaceful way. People view kneeling as disrespecting the flag but don’t really know the true meaning as to why the players do it. The players are well aware of how much that flag means to our nation, and I don’t think kneeling is disrespecting it at all. I support Colin’s message. His kneeling is not disrespecting the American flag, it is raising awareness and protesting social injustice and Police Brutality, in other words, he is using his right of freedom of speech to express his beliefs and ideas,” explains Rogers.
At this point, it’s about 7:45pm and the game is in full effect. Rogers reminisced on the past when he used to play on that very turf, but he is also thinking of the future. “I’ve been very proactive of my next steps since my senior year of college. My plan is to get involved with law enforcement. To start as a local cop in a local jurisdiction close to home, gain valuable experience, become a detective and gain knowledge to prepare me for my end game; becoming an FBI Special Agent. Over the years the controversy between law enforcement and the community (Black Community in particular), has opened my eyes to how critical it is to have some color inside the force to even the playing field for our people as a race,” he says.
Football is not a game of gargantuan morons that breezed through college on the free pass of sports. It is much more than that. There are enlightened individuals with incredibly high moral values, such as Colin Kaepernick and Sam Rogers, that only wish for the best for all people. These are gentlemen that make noble decisions to kneel during the performance of the national anthem. Instead of standing for a song that represents a country still at war. “For the land of the free and the home of the brave”? To whom does that line of the national anthem refer? Was Trayvon Martin free and George Zimmerman brave? Was Philando Castile free and Jeronimo Yanez brave? The lyrics to that song do not represent the accurate realities of America, and kneeling for the duration of the song sheds a previously blinded light on the issue.
It was nearing the end of the game and there was a faint whisper amongst the crowd. A sunken defeat poisoned the Maryland Terrapin fans as people sluggishly gathered their empty popcorn bowls and zipped up their previously stripped outerwear. “Damn, 37-21 how did we lose to Northwestern! The lost was unfathomable, but there is always another game and another step forward towards the future!