‘Take a knee’: from a pariah’s protest to global movement

Video Credit: Reuters Studio - Duration: 03:15s - Published
‘Take a knee’: from a pariah’s protest to global movement

‘Take a knee’: from a pariah’s protest to global movement

From the fields of the NFL to the streets of Minneapolis, "taking the knee" has evolved into a powerful symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Matthew Larotonda charted its origins.


It’s a simple gesture, but a controversial one: "Taking the knee." It began as one man’s protest, enraged a president, and has evolved into a potent symbol for protesters against racial injustice.

Let’s rewind to where it came from.

The first notable appearance was in the NFL back in 2016.

Colin Kaepernick – then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers - who infamously refused to stand for the national anthem.

He said, quote: “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 was protesting racial injustice but, at the time, the debate largely focused on patriotism.

Another NFL player and former soldier, Nate Boyer, suggested Kaepernick take the knee instead.

“I said, 'I when I see you sitting on the bench isolated, I think it can come off to some people as if it's you're making it about you and not this movement or this cause.'

And I said, 'Much like in the military, I think it's important to be alongside your teammates,' you know.

So he thought he agreed and he said, 'But I'm committed.

I'm not going to stand, you know, until things start to change.'

I said, 'OK, that's fair.

Then I guess your only other option is to take a knee.'” “The thoughts that ran through my head about kneeling was, like, pictures in the history books of somebody kneeling before the king to be knighted, somebody proposing to their wife, taking a knee to pray in the Catholic Church.

I'd seen that image of Martin Luther King kneeling as well.

I think it's a powerful image.” The knee was supposed to be more respectful, but the fallout was intense.

More players joined the protest – more supporters off the field, more opponents - including President Donald Trump who demanded a boycott of the league and has long since framed those who take the knee as anti-American.

“Before watching a football game, you want to see those players be proud of their country.

Respect our country.” Kaepernick hasn’t played for years.

It reached a peak in 2017 but then subsided - until George Floyd.

Within a week of the death of George Floyd, the knee came back in a big way.

And now globally.

It’s even prompted significant u-turns, including from Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner.

"We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” While it may have origins in Kaepernick’s protest, for many, it’s taken on a new reality – a reminder of the way Floyd died.

Taking a knee’ now marries protest and defiance with reverence and mourning.

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