The National Anthem and UTL

By, Haley Kwoun

The backlash felt by those who practice their right to free speech by taking a knee during the National Anthem at sporting events has only grown more hostile in recent weeks.  Gyree Durante was the first college football player to be kicked off of a team for his peaceful protest before his October 7 game, but he openly refuses to regret his actions.

The Star Spangled Banner, declared the national anthem in 1931, was played as a unifying element during Game 1 of the 1918 World Series.  The Boston Red Sox then began playing the anthem before each baseball game, and it was adopted as a nationwide practice. Although the recent events regarding the anthem have developed in proximal years, the song has been protested for decades to raise awareness of injustices throughout the nation. For example, Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a fist in a “black power” salute during the national anthem and were ousted from the 1968 Olympic games. Protests have mainly been carried out with the intention to express that the country is not living up to the ideals put forth in its very constitution.  These recent instances are no different, but it is common for those who protest now to be villainized by the President, media, and other fellow Americans.  Many Americans hold the belief that they cannot dishonor those in the military by kneeling during the national anthem and instead protest and recognize the injustices in other ways.  Neither action, standing or kneeling, stems from ill intentions, and each individual is respectfully entitled to their own opinion. While this entitlement may not be obvious in the news, Winsor and each member of the community strives to uphold this value without shame or judgement. In the eyes of some of its students, the school has done well in that regard; Sophie Y. ‘20 felt “safe to choose either to stand or kneel” without feeling “pressured to do either.”

Following tradition of the Under the Lights ceremony, Small Chorus sang the Star Spangled Banner for the school after the cheers. The performance was preceded by the powerful remarks of Ms. Pelmas, who encouraged each student to react individually, unapologetically, and without fear of judgment from their peers. In the weeks before, the students had been exposed to the discussion surrounding the difficult topic, hearing remarks from Mr. Young during assembly that provided insight into the act of kneeling during the national anthem without disrespecting the country and those who defend our freedom. Though Winsor has only explicitly pushed its students to stand by their beliefs and do what they feel is right without influence of others or fear of consequences, Nicole C. ’18 feels that the preceding speech had diverse effects.  She says, “There were sentiments that the preceding speech came off as a sort of obligatory ‘heads up’ about a controversial gesture that many Winsor students may not have been aware of or anticipating. On the one hand, this warning gave people some time–– albeit not a lot–– to digest that something uncomfortable was about to happen, and to prepare if they felt necessary.”

Ifeanyi U. ’20 agrees that the atmosphere after the speech was “pretty uncomfortable in particular because the speech that was given before put everyone in an awkward place… As a person who kneels because I believe in protesting the unjust treatment of black Americans in this country, [the perceived message of the speech] made me feel as though some of the support was false.  While I truly appreciated seeing so many people kneeling, the speech almost tainted the overall experience for me…The speech made me feel as though many people chose to kneel out of obligation rather than understanding.”  The possible benefits and shortcomings of the speech were evident in the student body: promotion of freedom of expression, dispulsion of judgement and criticism, calls of warning, discomfort, and diversion of conversation.  

As was encouraged by Ms. Pelmas’ speech, the dialogue has been incorporated into conversation following the speech.  Clubs like 21st Century Forum and Panel are using the opportunity to reopen and normalize discussion surrounding this sensitive topic.  

Despite its intention to not influence the students, Ms. Pelmas’ speech appeared to affect the decisions and actions of some members of the community.  While many felt as though the speech constructively allowed for free expression of beliefs, others felt as though they were obligated to kneel, not out of solidarity, but out of societal pressure, and still others felt overall uncomfortable with the situation and discouragement of discussion.

Despite the growing antagonism arising from the political climate and further heightened by the kneeling, the Winsor community advocates for free and peaceful expression and is taking steps toward the elimination of both social prejudices and the silencing of the dialogue necessary to overcome these issues together.