Joanne O'Riordan: Kaepernick and Villaneuva represent best of the USA
Trump’s malevolent intervention being met by stiff resistance within the NFL
Former US Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers stands by himself during the national anthem. “Nobody thinks that when you’re taking a knee, you’re offending the flag.” Photograph: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
“You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely.”
There are events in life when you just know. You just know that history is about to be made. When Colin Kaepernick first sat down during the anthem it was by sheer luck I noticed him.
A wide pan camera shot of the San Francisco 49ers and I just happened to look up to spot something was amiss. Then, Twitter and social media reacted.
At first I thought nothing of it, then I was curious, and then I was eager to learn. Then it all emerged. Police brutality, racism and everything that was wrong with America were the issues – Colin Kaepernick took a stand. It was a moment where I just knew.
A year later, a pile of controversies have since passed. Kaepernick succeeded in his activist quest in creating activists while also donating the million he had pledged to various charities across America.
Then Donald Trump decided to continue picking on an old wound that never healed. After failed attempts to start up a rival league and a failed attempt at trying to buy the Buffalo Bills, the wounded ego of Donald Trump decided to go one step further . . . or a step too far.
He rescinded the invitation to NBA champions Golden State Warriors to join him at the White House. Lebron James called him a bum in a tweet that is now Lebron’s most interacted tweet. The NFL owners who each pitched about a million to the Trump cause have united with their “sons of bitches” in an act of defiance.
Just like that Donald Trump continued his destruction. He continued to nitpick on the most obscene thing and use it as a way to turn Americans against one another. He kept decimating the values and morals of Americans while unleashing a pack of ravenous patriotic Doberman on players who just want to play.
Players realised that the whole anthem issue has become a distraction. Kneelers hate the military, arm linkers hate the flag, while those who remain standing hate those who are suffering.
Every single game on Sunday had players either linked, non-existent, kneeling or sitting during the anthem. And it was at that moment where I just knew.
Donald Trump’s babblings went too far this time, and the players who are so often treated like replaceable property soon became united. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said less than a month ago in an ESPN interview that unlike the NBA, NFL players don’t have a high level of job security hence why no one joined Kaepernick.
But there is strength in numbers. The Pittsburgh Steelers spoke about unity and how this wouldn’t divide them as a team. Of course, the Steelers made a mess of their plan as US Ranger captain Alejandro Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan became a nationalist’s wet dream as he was spotted standing alone, hand over heart, during the anthem.
His response was simple “I feel embarrassed every time I see that picture”.
Villanueva also said initially he was upset by the kneeling but finished by saying he educated himself on the cause and realised he fought for the right to protest peacefully. He risked his life and fought for rights that the anthem lovers take for granted.
With education, Villanueva believes everyone will understand the kneelers. Nobody intends to disrespect the military or the veterans or anyone.
But, this is America. Where symbols, military pride and yelling the anthem while standing in the hot dog line during the actual anthem is patriotic. It’s not how well you treat the vulnerable or those in need, it’s how nice the American flag is painted on your face.
In the end, Villanueva said it best.
“Nobody thinks that when you’re taking a knee, you’re offending the flag,” he said. Similarly, he said, “I don’t think anyone standing for the flag is not respecting the fact that there is a lot of injustices and racial divide in our country.”
Injustices are plentiful, and while the patriotic Americans are taking offence on behalf of the military, Villanueva, Kaepernick and the kneelers have something in common. They all want to make their country better. They all believe in peaceful protests, and they all vehemently agree the way America is going at the moment, it will all end in tears.
Time will tell how all this will conclude and if it will leave the wounds of American society more open for hate and bile to emerge. For now, Villanueva, Kaepernick, and others all I can say is I salute you.