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Backlash to Anthem Protests

At Alabama, black students draw criticism from flag-carrying fans and ugly comments on social media. At Greenville, veterans take to the field (without permission).

October 24, 2016
 
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Protesting students and those protesting the protest at Alabama

Black students nationwide have been inspired by and joined the protest started by Colin Kaepernick of the National Football League in which people decline to stand during the national anthem before athletic contests.

The protests continue to spread, and they are facing a backlash at some campuses. Some of the backlash consists of people making a case for standing for the anthem. But some of the backlash -- especially on social media -- is coming in the form of ugly comments directed against black students.

At a football game at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa on Saturday, a few dozen black students sat together and remained seated for the national anthem. (The football team at Alabama doesn't appear on the field until after pregame activities such as the anthem, and so has not been involved in the protest.)

Saturday's protest was the second at an Alabama football game, and students announced their plans in advance, using the hashtag #bamasits to organize and explain their views.

As at other colleges and universities where students have protested, students cited police violence against young black people and the racism that remains present in American society.

At the game on Saturday, many white fans made a point of bringing and displaying U.S. flags, of placing their hands over their hearts during the anthem, and showing great enthusiasm for the anthem. (Some people do this during any game, but the patriotic activity was much more pronounced than during typical games.)

Many of those opposed to the protest organized around a hashtag of #bamastands.

On social media, many comments directed at the black students went beyond simply disagreeing with them.

Other comments criticized the Black Lives Matter movement that many of the protesting students support. And others wrote that part of being at the University of Alabama is supporting the flag and not protesting in this way.

Others expressed support for the protest, and some said that they felt new pride for Alabama after seeing these students protest. Many defending them noted that the protest was entirely peaceful and did not interfere with the ability of other fans to stand during the anthem. Many wrote that the responses they saw online and in person point to the reasons they supported the protest. "Today I was brought to tears as my peers bombarded our peaceful protest …. [I don't know] why the hate is so deep," one student wrote on Twitter.

The Facebook page on which Alabama students trade football tickets featured many divisive remarks about the protest -- and one person who posted what was deemed a criminal threat against black students has since been arrested.

The Crimson White, the student newspaper at Alabama, published an editorial (after the first protest but before Saturday's) that defended the right of students to sit during the anthem, and said that all should be concerned about a lack of respect shown to those who protest.

"It can be difficult to adjust to new perspectives; when faced with new points of view, some react explosively and insensitively because they don’t know how to accommodate a set of ideas that differs so heavily from their own," the editorial said. "But this extends beyond gathering new perspectives. This is about deeply ingrained, institutionalized racism that has now pervaded even the simplest of American exercises -- peaceful protest. We’re never going to agree on everything. But the least we can do is understand and respect one another."

A statement from the university said that the protests have First Amendment protection. "The university supports the rights and ability of students to protest in a way that does not infringe on the freedoms of others," the statement said. "The UA campus community should continue to be accepting, tolerant, open to differing ideas and opinions, and should treat one another with respect despite any differences. Not everyone will agree with opinions expressed by other individuals or groups, but these conflicting opinions and views are almost always protected by the First Amendment."

Veterans on the Field at Greenville

At Greenville College, in Illinois, some football players in recent weeks have taken a knee during the national anthem, prompting discussion at the college and in the surrounding areas.

KSDK News reported that on Saturday, members of a local Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge -- without permission from the college -- marched to the center of the football field before the game. The football team was then told by college officials to go back to the locker room, although some students remained on the field.

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