Cameron Gordon has seen both sides of the NFL protests. In 2015, he won the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, and retired a couple of seasons later. Now, in 2017, he expects to graduate from the 133rd Recruit Class of the Michigan State Police by the end of November.
So his take on the national anthem protests is particularly illuminating: “I like the discussion that it’s caused,” he told Politico.
Gordon’s take on the protests, in which NFL players typically kneel or lock arms instead of standing for the national anthem before games to protest racial inequality and police brutality, is nuanced:
What they’re saying is, “We don’t feel a part of America and we’re submitting to the flag.” Which is saying: “I want to have those equal rights, I want to feel as though I’m being treated equally when I’m pulled over in a stop or when I’m in need of help.” I don’t want to feel as if I’m a criminal in every instance I run into law enforcement. …
All law enforcement is not perfect. There’s bad apples. Just like athletes. I know how athletes are. All athletes aren’t perfect. … When the whole domestic violence thing was coming out, I was getting looked at as a person who was, you know, hitting women or something. And I was like, “No, that’s not the case. Everyone’s not like that.” Just like the blemishes that police officers are getting right now.
Ultimately, though, Gordon concluded that if he were still in the NFL, “There’s probably a good chance that I would take a knee. Yeah. And me being in law enforcement now, that’s why I’m torn, because I know why. I feel like I know why, and that’s because people want to be treated fairly. Like ‘Hey, can I be a part of something that I don’t feel like I’m a part of?’ and that’s … basic constitutional rights.”
Gordon’s point, in short, is that the protests do have a legitimate grievance — and he can understand that even as a soon-to-be-cop whose brother is also a police officer in Detroit.
President Donald Trump, however, has characterized the protests as an affront to the flag, military, and country. As Trump said — to wild applause — at a rally, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field’?” Trump later said his criticisms of the protests have nothing to do with race, but are instead about “respect for our country and respect for our flag.” He has particularly focused on how taking a knee is, in his view, disrespectful to military veterans.
Gordon disagreed: “There’s no reason why veterans should get mad at them taking a knee. I feel personally there’s no reason because veterans go across overseas to fight for our rights. That’s no different than what they’re trying to do in a peaceful way, and they have the right to do so. Taking a knee, it’s a silent protest. They’re not burning anything up. They’re not tearing anything up. It’s a way to start a conversation, and it’s different than what you typically see on television.”
This lines up more with what the actual protesters have said. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the demonstrations last year, reportedly worked with Nate Boyer, a former NFL player who was previously a US Army Green Beret, to avoid offending military veterans. And Kaepernick was clear that his goal was to protest police brutality and racial inequality, not the country or military as a whole.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said during his original protests. “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.”
For more on the NFL protests, read Vox’s explainer.
Correction: Nate Boyer was a US Army Green Beret, not a Navy SEAL.