Student and basketball player Levi Holmes protested with over 200 other students.
Photo: Gabriella Elmoussaoui

American students take a knee against Trump

Athletes who kneel during the national anthem have incensed President Donald Trump. Now American students are joining them.

«I was not fully inspired before I heard Trump’s statements,» said Levi Holmes, who studies mathematics and economics, and plays basketball for the school team at Saint Michaels College. On Sept. 27 his team participated along with several other athletes and student activists in a protest on campus in the state of Vermont in the United States.

Over 200 students met up on the lawn while holding candles in their hands. By taking a knee, they want to put focus on inequalities in society and to show support to the NFL players who have met criticism after they kneeled down in protest.

The protest movement received a lot of attention after Trump stated during an angry speech that players who protest during the national anthem should be fired. The president followed with his usual style on Twitter. «Taking a knee» means simply kneeling when the US national anthem is played before sporting events, to protest against racial inequality and police brutality.

«When I heard the leader of my country criticizing athletes who protested peacefully, after calling the participants in the Charlottesville protest «very fine people,» I realized it was time for action,» Holmes said.

This is a peaceful protest which is neither harmful, disrespectful or degrading to any group of people.

Levi Holmes, student and basketball player

«We should stand together»

African Americans constitute 13 percent of the population in the US, and yet they constitute 38 percent of the population in prison. In addition, black young men have a six times greater chances of being killed by the police, compared with rest of the population. These biases have paved the way for the Black Lives Matter movement which was triggered in 2013, after the murder of African American teenager Trayvon Martin.

Since 2013 students have been the most dedicated to the movement, and there have been many protests at American universities. Now the student athletes have also gotten their own kind of protest.

«Since I am Afro-American I care a lot about police brutality and racial discrimination. We are all humans, and we should stand together,» Holmes said.

Controversial to mix politics with sports

Trygve Broch works at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences and is also a researcher at Yale University. He believes that the fact that most of the NFL and NBA athletes are Afro-Americans is crucial to the protests that are now seen.

«This is an arena where it is both important and easier to apply this form of identity politics when the football field offers visibility for African American role models,» he explained.

Broch specializes in the role of politics in sports. He believes that Trump’s statement shows what important role politics plays in sports.

«There is a widespread belief that sports are not political. Yet it is becoming apparent in NFL that it is. There are massive commercial interests around the matches, and you can see a militarized entertainment arena,» he said. «Police and military are present and honored before the matches, and military aircraft fly over the arena. This is so normalized that you do not think of it as politics,» he added.

According to Broch, sports in the US are important for gathering the community, and act as a venue where people meet across ethnicity, gender and class. That’s why explicit politics in sports be controversial.

«After Colin Kaepernick took a knee, there is now an ongoing struggle about what politics and sports. Trump does not want racial politics to play a role in sports,» Broch said.

Peaceful or disrespectful protest?

Holmes and his teammates have received massive support from both trainers and the university management for their protest. In sharp contrast to this are the reactions of the management at Colorado Christian University, which has banned people from kneeling during the national anthem.

«Refusing to stand under the national anthem weakens the message and is disrespectful towards the country, the military and the veterans,» said Jeff Hunt, head of the school’s think tank to TMZ Sports. Donald Trump used the same argument. Levi Holmes believes this hinders students’ freedom of expression.

«This is a peaceful protest which is neither harmful, disrespectful or degrading to any group of people,» he said.