Is kneeling during the National Anthem unpatriotic?

With NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparking a national debate by kneeling for the national anthem during a football game, a broader debate ensued about whether kneeling is an appropriate form of social protest or rather an unpatriotic act of disrespect.

Rise of the Issue

The debate about whether kneeling is unpatriotic or not was sparked after Kaepernick’s silent protest against racism during a NFL game in 2016, and the ripple effect this has had on other pro athletes also taking such a stand during the national anthem since. The issue seemed to have progressively died out by itself until President Donald Trump made some controversial comment about how he believed kneeling to be an act of disrespect that deserved some form of punishment, after which the debate resumed with even greater intensity.

Overall, this debate revolves around three micro-issues: whether or not kneeling during the anthem is in accordance with the right to protest, the question of whether it is unpatriotic to do so, and finally whether the national anthem itself is inherently racist or not.

Issue Timeline


U.S. Sprinters Raise Fists at Olympics

Gold and Bronze Medal-winning Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos were banned from the Olympics after raising black-gloved fists on the podium during the playing of the national anthem.


The Forgotten Protest

At the Munich Olympics, 400-meter medalists Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett refused to stand at attention during the U.S. national anthem, stroking their beards and twirling their medals.


Kaepernick Kneels During National Anthem

At preseason games, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat, then knelt during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial inequality.


Trump’s Reaction

At a rally in Alabama, President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to cut players who knelt during the national anthem, prompting various reactions by NFL players wanting to show solidarity with Kaepernick.


NFL Issues New Rules, Then Rescinds Them

The NFL ruled in 2018 that players must either stand during the national anthem or remain in the locker room. But in 2020, the NFL apologized to the players and announced plans to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” considered the black national anthem, before every game along with the “Star-Spangled Banner.”


States Protect National Anthem

Texas passed a bill requiring professional sports teams in Texas to play the national anthem at all home games, and Florida promptly followed suit.

Micro Issues


Constitutional Right

Those who do not see kneeling as an offense argue that it is a constitutional right to be able to freely and peacefully protest, while those against argue that it is not so much the protesting itself that is disrespectful but the context in which it is done.



Those who are firmly against kneeling during the national anthem deem it unpatriotic and disrespectful to the greater values that the U.S. embodies, while those in favor believe that kneeling is about another issue altogether and is not a stand against the U.S and its broader values.


The National Anthem and Racism

Some proponents of protesting during the national anthem believe that the anthem itself is problematic when it comes to the issue of race, while its opponents think that this interpretation is taken out of the anthem’s historical context.

Pro Arguments


Protesting is one of the core values and rights of the U.S.

The act of kneeling during the national anthem is seen here as taking a constitutional right, in accordance with the First Amendment.


Civil rights activism is also deeply embedded in American consciousness.

Kneeling is done in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is very much in line with the civil rights activism that started with U.S. prominent historical figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.


Patriotism and antiracism are not mutually exclusive.

This line of argument believes that it is possible to both have strong ties to one’s country and feel that some of its aspects need change.


Not standing during the national anthem is not illegal.

There are no penalties prescribed in the U.S. Codes regarding the national anthem and the U.S. flag.


These events help raise awareness on racial injustice.

These different peaceful protests have sparked a public debate around racism and police brutality and forced the nation to discuss topics that were previously taboo.

Con Arguments


Protesting should not happen during the national anthem.

Some argue that it is not the act of kneeling itself that is disrespectful but the choice of timing and place.


Protesting should not come at the expense of respecting traditions.

In this line of thinking, it is not the act of kneeling that is problematic but the act of not standing in a moment of paying respect to one’s nation.


These protests may force other sports players into controversy.

Some players have found themselves embroiled in the kneeling controversy for not being willing to take a knee during the anthem, when it is their right not to protest.


They could be seen as a sign of disrespect towards the members of the armed forces.

The national anthem celebrates and honors the sacrifices so many have made to preserve freedom in the U.S. To protest while it plays might be seen as a sign of disrespect for their service to the nation.


These acts of protest are creating divisiveness.

Because these acts are so visible, they have violent ripple effects in society and trigger backlash. Some argue that however noble the intention, they might do more wrong than good.