Taking the Knee




Kaepernick took the knee for the first time during the national anthem for the first time on September 1, 2016. 

What does taking a knee mean? And do professional players have to do this now before each game? As part of February’s Footwork in Focus, we take a look at taking the knee and the Black Lives Matter Movement in sport. 

Taking the Knee – History 

Taking the knee in sport started with American Football star Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers player wanted to protest against police brutality in the U.S and did so by refusing to take part in the American national anthem before a preseason game in August, 2016, where he sat on the bench while his players lined up and sang the anthem. 

However, he was advised by Nate Boyer, a military veteran and former American Football player, to take the knee rather than sit on the bench for the anthem as it was more respectful. In response, Kaepernick took the knee for the first time during the national anthem for the first time on September 1, 2016. 

Kaepernick was supported by some people, including his teammates, other professional sports stars and former U.S president Barack Obama, and opposed by others, like Donald Trump and bosses at the NFL. 

Despite Kaepernick’s actions causing division, his symbol of taking the knee has been used in demonstrations across the U.S against police brutality against black people. After the death of George Flloyd in May, 2020, many American’s took to the streets in protest and took the knee in solidarity of the Black Lives Matter Movement. 


Players do this to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement

A player can choose whether to support it or not as it is an individual choice. 

Why do Sports Players take the knee?

In addition to Kaepernick and other high-profile NFL players taking the knee, the act is now commonplace in English, German and U.S professional football. Since June 2020, Premier League, EFL, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship players have taken the knee before kick-off.

Players do this to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement, using their platform and the wide viewership of the sport to promote the message towards equality for all people, no matter what their race. 

At times, players have faced criticism from fans and high-profile people within football. QPR director of football, Les Ferdinand stopped his club from taking the knee in September as he felt the act was not bringing about real change. But, England captain Harry Kane disagreed and has supported taking the knee, Kane previously said the act can help educate people about racial inequality. 

Will it continue in the future?

Although taking the knee is now common in professional sport, it still divides opinion. 

Some have called for the act to stop, with fans at particular clubs booing the players when they took the knee in November and December, 2020.

 However, in December last year, the Professional Players’ Football Association asked players if they wanted to continue taking the knee and most responded in support of the act, meaning it is likely to continue in professional football for some time. 

But, taking the knee has never been something a player has to do – they can choose whether to support it or not as it is an individual choice. 

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