An open perspective: Looking at the NFL’s new kneeling policy

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I’m not interested in taking aim at anyone’s particular opinion on this ongoing conflict, nor discussing my own, for that matter. I’m simply asking for an open perspective.

On Wednesday, the National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league’s owners have “unanimously” approved a new policy regarding the national anthem debacle that has affected the NFL for the past two seasons. Notably, San Francisco 49ers owner and CEO Jed York abstained from the vote.

Under the new rules, players and staff who are on the field during the anthem performance will be required to stand, and their teams will be subject to a fine should on-field team personnel attempt to sit or kneel in any manner that does not show respect for the flag and the anthem. This ruling was made without consultation to the players’ union.

Unlike the previous policy, the new policy will offer individuals the option to remain in the locker room throughout the anthem, away from the cameras and, perhaps most importantly, away from the public eye.

What began with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking an iconic kneel during a preseason game in 2016 has culminated into the firestorm of controversy that developed into Wednesday morning’s news.

Like it or not, it’s difficult to deny that Kaepernick’s decision was fueled by anything but a pursuit of peace amid a conflict that has persisted throughout our country. Yet just seconds after news of the implementation of the new rule was released, a maelstrom of existing feelings resurfaced across the web.

I can’t speak for Kaepernick and fellow protesters themselves, but I believe this is partly what they wanted and partly what they didn’t. They did strive to create change for the better, and that change begins with fresh discussions that could optimistically lead to progress. I can also imagine that they did not want to create an even bigger, and potentially more violent, divide between Americans on both sides of the conflict at hand.

Those who support the protests are appalled that the NFL would take away a freedom that the United States was founded upon. While it is difficult to track progress that Kaepernick advocated for in his protest, it’s evident that his actions ignited a fire.

Those who support the new policy are hopeful that the focus of games will shift back toward football and revert to a place where partisan bias is out of the picture.

Our country is built on opinions, which have fueled the direction of our government and our policies for years on end. And I am not calling for an end to the persisting dialogue, nor do I want to silence anyone’s valued perspective on the matter. But I am calling for people to realize the bigger picture of what is going on, which is that sports have a unique power to instigate change.

Sports provide a platform that has shown the ability to bring about peace and unification, particularly when teams and players are able to utilize that platform to serve the underprivileged or those experiencing adversity and hardship.

Earlier this week, the tragic event at Santa Fe High School hit the hearts of people all around the world, including the athletes and teams that many kids adore and look up to. It’s no secret that our favorite athletes are often some of our favorite role models, and many seize the opportunity to let us know that they are regular people just like us.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will be paying for the funerals of those lost in last Friday’s shooting. The Houston Rockets, in the thick of a tight playoff series with the Golden State Warriors, are offering free tickets to the entire senior class of Santa Fe High School for Thursday’s highly anticipated Game 5.

It’s a reminder that there’s something bigger than sports that sports themselves serve.

Kaepernick is also an athlete whom many grew to cheer for and ultimately still do. His symbolic act is seen from a variety of different perspectives. It has taken him away from his football career and into a new spotlight, one that has political ramifications that will undoubtedly reach history textbooks for years to come.

But the one perspective we must all have is that his decision is an attempt to bring people together. To bring peace. To bring a new stance in the fight against racism, brutality and tension through the eyes of an athlete who also happens to be a regular person with opinions just like the rest of us.

It remains to be seen how teams and players will respond once the season kicks off this autumn. But whether you’ve vehemently supported the NFL’s decision with an extended comment on Facebook praising Goodell’s statement or selected the “angry-react” option, just remember that we’re all striving toward a similar goal of acceptance and understanding.

Josh Yuen covers women’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020