NFL players aren’t the only ones using the “Star Spangled Banner” as a moment to state their stance against police brutality and racial injustice. Since Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem nearly three years ago, children and adults from every walk of life joined in to demand change. Recently, a Chicago firefighter took a knee during a charity football game, igniting a firestorm of controversy.
During the eighth annual First Responders Bowl, a game between members of Chicago’s police and fire departments to honor two fallen members, Camron McGarity dropped to his knee during the national anthem, causing some people to get upset.
While athletes, entertainers, and regular folk have all attempted to explain that kneeling during the anthem is about protesting against racial injustice and police brutality, many saw McGarity’s move as disrespectful to his fallen comrades.
Fired Chicago Police Superintendent, and current mayoral candidate, Garry McCarthy, called McGarity’s protest “inappropriate” though he admitted the fireman was exercising his first amendment rights.
“As an American and as the son of a World War II veteran who was injured on Mount Suribachi –– that iconic [Iwo Jima] photo that everybody in the world is aware of — I was raised with incredible reverence for this country and the flag,” McCarthy said. “Having said that, while I may disagree personally with anybody who engages in some sort of behavior like that, I still respect the right to free speech.”
Others weren’t so forgiving. The woman who submitted the picture of McGarity to the Chicago Sun-Times said she was “angry, disappointed, and embarrassed” by his actions.
“I, like many who have also seen it, am angry, disappointed and embarrassed,” Judy Austerd wrote in an email to the newspaper. “Do the coaches/managers and players on this team believe that this manner of disrespect to the families of Bauer and Bucio is tolerable? . . . Is this not what is known as ‘conduct unbecoming a sworn member?’”
“Exactly what are you protesting, seeing that you have what I’ve heard referred as a dream job that is treasured by many and hoped for by many more,” Austerd continued. “Other than afford you the honor and privilege to serve alongside some of the most noble men and women that this city has to offer, how have you been mistreated?”
While many seem to be willfully ignorant about the ways police violence and racial injustice can also affect Black officers and first responders, too, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said he has no plans to reprimand McGarity for exercising his Constitutional rights.
During the last NFL season, kneeling during the national anthem had actually died down with only a handful of players still engaging in the practice until Donald Trump decided to call the those who chose to silently demonstrate “sons of bitches.”
Since then, the issue has once again become a contentious topic with the NFL instituting an anti-kneeling policy for the upcoming season and Trump disinviting the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House celebration because he claimed “they disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem.”
As America continues to grapple with its racial and political divisions, it’s clear the debate over whether or not it’s appropriate to protest during the national anthem will continue.