Taking a Kneel

By Zachary Love

O Say Can You See…

 I heard the song in my imagination minutes before I was about to confront it. Or, in the words of others: disrespect it.  

 Finally, the familiar call to remove caps and rise felt a little different because I was choosing to kneel. A teammate must’ve heard the rustling of my pads because he turned around and stared at me.

 “Get up,” he ordered.

 I remained knelt.

 “Get up,” he ordered again.

 I knelt for the duration of the national anthem. When someone in sports is injured, players take a knee out of respect. I was doing the same thing for those injured by police brutality.

 Afterward, another teammate rushed to me.

 “Did you hear what some parents said?”

 “No, about what?”

 “The kneel. Those parents said ‘how do we let our kids do that?’ ”

 Although some disagreed, my kneeling made the cover of the school newspaper which resulted in my ultimate goal: it sparked a school-wide conversation about the issue. Members of my school community now seemed more comfortable to share their views, and I felt that it created a more cohesive and empathetic football brotherhood. I had gone from being the only one kneeling to inspiring others on my football team to kneel or sympathize with a gesture before the games. I even received comments from teachers who had not taught me: “I respect what you’re doing… it means a lot for the community.”

I was not aspiring to become a school celebrity. I merely wanted to help my community become sensitive to issues that are consuming our nation.

Summoning the courage to “Do the Right Thing” on race is not always easy when friends pressure me to do what I think is wrong. Earlier in the year, classmates defended a student that the school disciplined for racist behavior.

 “He’s going to get expelled if you don’t talk to the administration,” a friend explained.

 “It’s the school’s decision whether he gets expelled, but by no means am I going to support what he did,” I retaliated.  

 “It was just a joke though, he doesn’t deserve this, ” my friend continued.

 He was actually a friend and teammate. I was stunned to see him in photos that another friend sent me.  He took pictures with a white towel over his head and filled in his face white except for eye holes. All of the pictures contained the word “nigger” and one had Nazi symbolism. I could tell by the background that some of the images were created during a track spring training trip in which only eight members attended.

I remembered how those images shocked me. I remembered how confidently he used that word. I remembered my family’s history of fleeing the South to escape racial tension because of things he celebrated in pictures. Therefore, I wasn’t going to dismiss his actions as unharmful.

Some people I considered friends trivialized his actions and tried to shame me for not understanding. I was quite disappointed at first, believing my friends disregarded the impact on those offended by his actions.  It took quite a bit of discussion for us to understand each others’ points of view. It was difficult to stand up for my beliefs with friends who were so opposed to my position.

Fortunately, my school conducted an assembly to discuss the difficulties of dealing with friends who have done unfortunate things, and I learned that we cannot always protect friends from consequences. In the end, some of my friendships grew while others were strained.

This incident and the kneeling pushed me to focus on doing what is in the best interest of my community. When I believe in what I’m doing, most anything else is an aftereffect. Friends describe me as thoughtful and determined, but I say I am just committed to doing what I believe in without being intolerant of different views.

Zachary Love, a graduate of The Dalton School, will be a freshman at Brown in the Fall