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Take a Knee

By Father Mark Pautler

Take a Knee

Colin Kaepernick, “Kap,” first appeared on my football radar during the 2012 NFL season when he took over the San Francisco 49ers’ QB job. Alex Smith, a good quarterback with bad luck, suffered a vicious hit and was taken from the field. Kap came on in relief and never left, leading the Niners to the Super Bowl. They lost to the Ravens. In 2013, Kap was in charge, but fell short of another Super Bowl appearance. The next season, despite Kap’s gazelle strides and rocket arm, my Niners dropped like a rock. Yes, Seahawk devotees, I remain a diehard 49er fan, through thick and thin. We were very thin until 2019. As for Kap, his football career waned, but he walked a different path.

In a pre-season game of 2016, the camera caught him sitting—or slouching—while the national anthem played. A week or two later, he “took a knee,” and not when the team lined up in the victory formation—which hardly ever happened. The meaning of the gesture is not self-evident. Kap explained himself after the sit-down: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Taking a knee was a prophetic sign. We Catholics understand this as a reverential gesture rather than a protest. I don’t know of anyone saying, “Well, it’s Kap’s prayer for our country.” But why not?

Kap’s NFL career ended with the 2016 season, but not his impact. Other players took up taking a knee or other signs of protest and solidarity. However, it seemed to me that taking a knee during the national anthem was low-intensity controversy.

Then, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd “took a knee.” This was not a symbolic gesture; this was not “low-intensity controversy.”  It was eight minutes and 46 seconds of torture; one man’s knee on another man’s neck that resulted in death. The protests that erupted across the nation already had a signature—taking a knee; and police would do the same as a sign of solidarity. I was hopeful that Kap’s knee was making a difference, keeping protesting and policing less confrontational and destructive. Maybe it did, a little.

The George Floyd protests continue. The violence of ongoing demonstrations has ratcheted up. Lately on the news, I haven’t seen anyone taking a knee.

The protests in Spokane were mainly peaceful. I watched demonstrators making their way to Riverfront Park, some with BLM, “I can’t breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace” signs. Many were young. They were racially diverse. The young adults, Gen Z, the Zoomers (born 1995-2012) were not yet born or do not have the memory of 9/11. Remember how we tried to protect our children from the news? The men and women in blue, the “first responders,” assumed heroic status, and rightly so. Gen Z is exposed to different images that arouse different emotions.

I did not walk with the demonstrators, so I cannot boast of being in solidarity with them. What I can do is take a knee. I first considered spending eight minutes and 46 seconds on a knee to begin morning prayer. Well, that lasted about 2 minutes. I decided upon 84 seconds, rounding it up to 90. It’s a prayer, not a protest. It’s about the time it takes to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”