Sports & The Flag Panel Recap
Recap by George Gerbo
Progression and advancement – that was the theme put forth at a University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism panel discussion on Wednesday night about the intersection of sports and the United States flag.
“We have an obligation, we have a responsibility, athlete or not, to push us in the right direction,” said former NFL cornerback and NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth. “If we are not all pushing in the right direction, we can lose.”
The panel, moderated by George Solomon and Kevin Blackistone and sponsored by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, focused on the national conversation started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand during the national anthem.
“The impact of what Kaepernick’s doing, what the players are doing, is something that won’t truly be felt until years down the road. Because what they’re doing is creating an example of what it means to be an athlete,” Foxworth said.
Foxworth also provided context about the team dynamic in the NFL, saying that players have discussions and Kaepernick’s actions are not as disruptive internally as might be perceived by the public.
“There is no HR department in a locker room. So when someone says something offensive or does something offensive, then you deal with it,” Foxworth said.
All of the panelists supported Kaepernick’s actions and likened them to citizen protests during the Vietnam War-era.
“I support Kaepernick and what he’s doing, because as we went through in the 60s and the 70s, and the turmoil that existed in order to stop that war, the same thing can be ignited here, which is that it’s time for these things to be resolved,” said former NFL offensive lineman Ray Schoenke.
“We’ve got athletes now with a social consciousness that we haven’t seen since the 60s and 70s,” added USA Today columnist Christine Brennan.
Some panelists dove into the historical context behind the anthem, including the background of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem that became the anthem in the course of the siege of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
“Key was a vociferous proponent of enslavement. And his purpose in [Baltimore] harbor that night was to defend the rights of slave traders to maintain their property,” said Morgan State University professor Jared Ball.
All of the panelists hit on the culture change among this younger generation of athletes and non-athletes alike, and how they are hastening the evolution of American society and culture.
“I think that what we will see in the future is a much better, a much more socially conscious, a much more responsible crop of not just athletes, but young adults out there,” Foxworth said.
Schoenke, an advocate for social reform both during and after his playing days, echoed Foxworth’s sentiment.
“I think it’s a good thing that’s going on here. And I hope it turns into something that’s really, really big and making some changes and differences,” Schoenke said.
Panelists also included ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack and “The Undefeated” editor Kevin Merida.
Gerbo is a graduate student at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.