by Henry Smith
Staff writer

The National Football League (NFL) players have been the center of a debate with president Donald Trump, for their decision to kneel during the national anthem as a symbol to protest police brutality.

The controversial demonstration began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt instead of standing during the performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” during the 2016 football season. Kaepernick said he was protesting police brutality and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. “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 said.‎ Other football players began kneeling to show support as well.

Kaepernick was released from his contract with the 49ers at the end of last season and has not been signed with another football team for this season. At a political rally in Alabama last week, President Donald Trump weighed in on the issue by suggesting NFL owners fire players who kneel instead of standing for the national anthem before football games.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners — when somebody disrespects our flag — to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’ ” Trump said.

The president’s comments re-ignited public interest on the issue and since then, players, coaches, owners, and politicians have expressed strong opinions through public statements and demonstrations. President Trump has tweeted about this issue at least 19 times since he originally addressed the issue.

The NFL has supported the players and teams that knelt during the anthem. NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell spoke out, criticizing President Trump’s “divisive comments.”

During the game on Sept. 25, between the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos,  the Dallas Cowboys’ staff, players, and owner Jerry Jones knelt together on the field prior to the national anthem. They stood and locked arms as the anthem began, provoking a range of reactions from the public and the fans in attendance.

On Sunday, Sept. 24, Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder stood with locked arms between cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland during the anthem in a display of team unity.

“Football has always served as the great unifier, bringing people together to celebrate the value of courage, commitment and achievement,” the Redskins organization said in a statement.

That same day, at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ players voted to remain in the locker room during the national anthem. Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin said that was because the team wanted to focus on the game and not President Trump’s comments.

However, Steelers’ offensive lineman,  Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, who served three tours fighting in Afghanistan, chose to come out and stand for the anthem.

Villanueva has since explained that he had discussed with several teammates his plan to stand for the anthem, and that he did not mean his action to appear as a protest against his teammates. He also said he was not offended that his teammates chose to stay inside.

“I take no offense,” Villanueva told reporters the day after the game. “I don’t think veterans at the end of the day take any offense. They actually signed up and fought so that somebody could take a knee and protest peacefully whatever it is that their hearts desire.”