It's been more than a year since Colin Kaepernick first protested racism and police abuse of people of color back in August 2016, by sitting (and later kneeling) during the national anthem. Since then, his protest has been adopted by dozens of NFL players and spread even beyond football. But despite a year of coverage of the growing movement, on Wednesday morning's episode of Fox & Friends, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren asked what the NFL players are even kneeling for.
"I would like to ask these players 'What exactly are you kneeling for and why have you chosen the flag and the anthem to do it?'" the former Blaze host said on the morning show.
When Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was first asked about his national anthem protest in August 2016, he told an NFL media reporter,
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.
As the protest has grown, so too have attempts by the protesting players and their supporters to make sure its message is clear. In September, after President Trump lashed out at the protesting players during a rally in Alabama, the protest ballooned from a few sporadic players to a large portion of the NFL. Eric Reid, a safety for the 49ers and one of the first players to join Kaepernick when his teammate started the protest back in 2016, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, explaining the ideas behind the protest.
Reid writes that he reacted to the death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was shot by police officers while pinned to the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, feeling "furious, hurt and hopeless. He discussed his feelings with Kaepernick at the time:
We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
Reid also tried to make clear that the protest was not related to the flag or protesting America as a whole.
We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
Some have mocked Lahren for discussing the issue on national television, despite seemingly not understanding the details of the topic she was invited to discuss.
Since President Trump got involved, and pushed so many players (and even, in some cases, team owners) into taking a stance on the protests, some have complained that the original meaning of the protests, specifically focusing on cases of police violence against African-Americans, has been lost as they have been subsumed into a wider set of protests against the president.
Lahren's seeming ignorance on the message of the protests suggests that this may have happened. On the other hand, Lahren has been speaking out against the protests and Kaepernick ever since they started. It's entirely possible that she's not acting in good faith.