A unified front needs a unified message

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem in 2016.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem in 2016. AP

Symbols are a living thing. They strengthen or weaken depending on the audience and sometimes get perverted when too much information is available.

So to decipher the best symbol for an occasion, we have to look at intention.

But what happens when the intention itself is muddled?

Kneeling has been a symbolic gesture for centuries and has many different interpretations.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality toward minorities. His purpose was clear.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said in 2016.

After President Donald Trump criticized the movement, hundreds of NFL players this week took the knee to protest…. Trump? Police brutality? A better America?

We’re not sure.

For many, this act of defiance can rightly be perceived as hurtful, even unpatriotic.

Trump’s comments added fuel to the political fire. But the players’ response didn’t succeed in building a stronger united front, it just made the protest became confusing.

With a clear and unified purpose, the protest might also be seen as an act of patriotism and solidarity.

Kaepernick, long a student of social equity and U.S. history, launched a powerful movement. Is it slowly coming off the rails?

Questlove tweeted it best on Sunday:

#TakeTheKnee = powerful. BUT don’t bandwagon something u don’t get: point is to UNDERSTAN why @Kaepernick7 is protesting. start there

We respect the right of players to protest peacefully during games, just as we respect the right of people to express their anger about these protests.

During their Monday night game, the Cowboys linked arms and kneeled, then rose for the anthem.

Does this make them unpatriotic? No.

Does it confuse the point? Yes.

Protesting yields a stronger result when there is a unified understanding of the message.