When the #TakeAKnee demonstrations began to catch on, I immediately resonated with the message. I too wanted to raise awareness for the issues of racism and police brutality in the United States. However, I still was not completely comfortable with sitting for the anthem.
It reminded me of the debates I’d have with my mother – some in real life, but most of them in my head. I wasn’t quite bold enough to fight her with words – yet. You see, I grew up forced to think about whether I would stand for the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance not because of Colin Kaepernick, Toni Stone, John Carlos or other athletes. I grew up constantly defending my commitment to my country because of the single-most important person in my life; my mother.
I can’t recall all of her arguments against the anthem and the pledge – at first because I was too young to understand. Then because I just wasn’t listening. You see, I had dreams of competing for my country. First, as a speed skater – like Bonnie Blair. Then, maybe like Sheryl Swoopes in basketball, Lisa Fernandez and Jessica Mendoza in softball.
I would dream of Olympic medals! The blood, sweat and eventual tears as the medal was placed around my neck. But then, I got worried. I watched enough Olympic moments to know that when (I was, and continue to be a confident person) I won gold, the camera would cut to my family – for the good shot. Would my mother sit for the anthem during my big moment? Would she ruin it all?
I wish this were just a story. I wish I could say that I didn’t secretly hate that my mother would sit in assemblies or at graduations. However, that is not the case. I can’t say I disrespected my mother for sitting, but I do know that I for many years, stood proudly for the anthem. I made a choice to make up my own mind about the ceremony. She didn’t stop sitting, and I didn’t stop standing. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, but I didn’t want to do something because she said I should.
Eventually, I realized the irony of all of that. Of the fact that I spent so much time questioning my mother, but not my country. The irony that, I gladly joined her at marches for all kinds of causes in the streets of NYC, but never bothered to fully understand her feelings about the flag.
I began reading what Kaepernick was saying about sitting for the anthem. As a sports writer, I saw first-hand the diversity of opinions in the WNBA on police brutality and the thoughtfulness with which the players remained united – and particularly, how players like Mistie Bass, Tamika Catchings and Kelsey Bone took a knee throughout the remainder of the 2016 season. Then, how Megan Rapinoe took a knee while with the US Women’s Soccer Team.
I was reminded, both in speaking with some of the aforementioned women and in reflecting on my activism, that what they were doing was not easy. It was done with thought and full understanding that not everyone would be supportive. That, perhaps like me, they were as adult women being forced to think differently about something they always held firm and unwavering.
It reminded me of all the moments that I overcame fear to speak truth to power, as well as all the times that I did not.
I am infinitely proud to be who I am, and where I was born plays a huge role in that. Over time, I have grown more confident in the morals of my country, the ones I vacantly recited for years, “liberty and justice, for all.” I realized reciting the pledge or singing the anthem without understanding does not make me a patriot, it makes me a puppet.
I realized when I strip down my true feelings for my country, I am – as a black Latina from poverty – hoping America will just like me. I was born to her by way of the state of New York, I sang for her, I defended her, I even give her money every year from my hard-earned 58 cents to every dollar my male comrades make.
And, because I do all those things, I am an American. I am a curious American, one who is fascinated by her laws, her history and her flaws. I began to read more about imperialism, the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Movement and the Constitution. I began to question the things I was taught, and not just by my mother. I began to debate my point of view and learn from people who think differently than me.
When Vicky (founder of the FCN) asked me to write a reaction to the current president’s feud with athletes, my initial reaction was, “yes, of course!” However, as I sat down to write, I found it difficult to organize my thoughts.
I have found myself exhausted by the social media conversations of late. I am more agitated than inspired. Not just by the words of President Trump and his supporters, but also by folks (directly or indirectly) co-opting the moment.
Therefore, I will not share all of my beliefs and opinions on the Trump Administration, the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB or any other sports organization. I will not tell anyone they should stand or that they shouldn’t visit The White House.
What I will say is this: wherever you fall on the #TakeAKnee “movement”, make sure it’s because that’s what you believe. With that said, regardless of what you decide, remember that racism and white supremacy are alive and well not only in America, but also in whatever you are reading this from.
Remember that race is a social construct used to maintain the authority of those in power. We have a system that fears a change in power. Race, by its nature, is divisive. Racism, by its nature, is dehumanizing.
Remember that, we must stick to the game plan if we hope to win. After all, that is what the opposition is doing.
The FCN would like to thank Erica for this incredibly honest and profound blog. We are very grateful for her thoughts and for sharing them with us all.
Erica is a sports writer with bylines at Double G Sports, MyWSports, Excelle Sports and the Female Coaching Network. She has covered events such as the WNBA Draft, the Inaugural National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) Isobel Cup Finals, and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement of Sheryl Swoopes. As a member of the Elon University softball team, she was selected as a 2006 Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar. Erica received her B.A in Political Science, with a minor in African-American Studies in 2008. In 2015, she received the Elon University Top 10 Under 10 Award from the Young Alumni Council. It is her love for sports and passion for advocacy that has brought Erica to sports writing. As a former athlete, she feels strongly about providing other children, especially girls, the opportunity to excel in athletics. As an advocate, she is drawn to the mission to continue to promote gender equity in the coverage, the funding and the compensation of girls and women in sports.