Instead of attempting a 95-yard Hail Mary drive to score a touchdown, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford took a knee to run out the clock and end the first half of their eventual victory on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
The game also started with taking a knee, but the TV broadcast didn’t show it.
Well over 100 protesters knelt outside Bank of America Stadium while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played inside. They did so in solidarity with the ongoing protests following the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott.
Charlotte police officers gunned down Scott, who was walking backwards in the middle of the afternoon on Sept. 20, firing four shots into the man diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. The police department maintains Scott was armed; after viewing the footage from two available angles, I must respectfully disagree.
The protest and its genuflection mirrors that of athletes across the country, a further imitation of San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, the man to whom this protest can be traced. Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem before a preseason contest against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26, setting off a firestorm.
Kaepernick pulled no punches in explaining the reason for what some viewed as a sign of disrespect.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche in an interview following the game. “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.”
After a lengthy conversation with teammates, Kaepernick opted to kneel during the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of the Niners’ preseason finale on Sept. 1.
But this time, he wasn’t alone. Safety Eric Reid knelt beside his former field marshal.
Since then, Kaepernick’s kneel — a quiet, elegant act of civil disobedience — found respectful copycats from the NFL to women’s soccer, beneath Friday night lights and on the UNC-Chapel Hill gridiron.
Players continue to kneel with Kaepernick despite potential consequences; on the NFL season’s opening night, Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall took a knee during the national anthem before the Super Bowl 50 rematch with the Panthers, and two sponsors dropped him almost immediately.
However, one outspoken, high-profile player hasn’t taken a knee: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
Before I continue, let’s settle things right off the bat: I’m not admonishing Newton. I love Killa Cam. And believe me when I say I think he’s admonished enough, especially by white, male sportswriters who don’t know the man.
But prior to the Vikings game, he’d been relatively silent on his fellow players’ protests, and I find that rather uncharacteristic of our brash, favored Panther.
Let’s not split hairs here: Newton spoke publicly about police brutality following Scott’s death, taking a centrist stance on the issue.
“I am not happy how justice has been dealt with over the years — you know, the state of oppression in our community,” Newton said in a press conference on Sept. 21. “But we also as black people have to do right by ourselves. We can’t be hypocrites […] I am saying we have to have a clear-eyed vision on both sides and [that] starts with everyone holding each other accountable and policing yourselves.”
Let’s not pretend he doesn’t notice the unfair scrutiny leveled at him.
“The place that I stand, sometimes it’s a lose-lose,” Newton pointed out. “You say something in one sense, and everyone says you’re a traitor.”
I get that he has a lot to lose — no offense, Kaepernick — as the reigning MVP and the face of a franchise struggling to legitimize itself as a serious powerhouse in a league seemingly perturbed by its recent success. Yet clearly, players like Kaepernick, Reid, Marshall and others who’ve either knelt, held up a fist or shown some sign of dissent to speak for the voiceless care more about the cause than about material loss.
That’s where criticism of Newton’s relative lack of action ends for me.
For one, he supports Kaepernick’s protest without any ambiguity.
“I salute him for standing (in this case kneeling) for something to, if not fix the issues, raise awareness of the issues,” Newton wrote in a Sept. 21 Instagram post eccentrically composed of special characters.
And then, further making a point, Newton practiced before the Vikings game dressed in a black T-shirt with the famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It makes sense he’d wear a shirt featuring MLK; his stances on social issues reflect the maxim, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
But these are desperate times.
As I stated in the May 4 iteration of this column, “[S]ports can influence and drive social change.” Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling proves that much.
“I don’t want to kneel forever,” Kaepernick told the press on Sept. 12 with a sly, sardonic laugh. “I want these things to change. I do know it will be a process, and it is not something that will change overnight. But I think there are some major changes that we can make that are very reasonable.”