By: Domenic Fraboni
A summary and reflection on the panel discussion “Taking a Knee: Social Injustice Protest on the Football Field and Beyond" - (with some additional commentary and proposed questions of my own)
Elvis Francois, M.D., Resident, Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education
Josiane Joseph, M.D., Ph.D. Student, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Rahul Kashyap, Sr. Clinical Research Coordinator, Department of Anesthesiology
Chris Schieffer, Section Head, Management Engineering and Internal Consulting
He took a knee. All he did was take a knee. With this simple action, a statement was made. He believed there needed to be a paradigm shift in the social reality in our country right now. The unrest had to stop, and he wouldn’t stand during the anthem to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people”. I am talking about Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team. First, we need a little background on Mr. Kaepernick.
Colin was born in Milwaukee, WI in November of 1987 as a mixed race baby to a single mother. Colin’s biological father promptly took of soon after discovering Colin’s mother was pregnant. Faced with the daunting challenge of raising a baby boy on her own, the future quarterback’s biological mother put him up for adoption, and he was quickly taken in by the Kaepernicks. Colin’s new parents relocated to California where they raised him, being sure to be very open about the adoption and about skin color. Teresa Kaepernick told the New York Times in 2010, “We pointed [out our skin color difference] as a positive, and he saw his difference and was comfortable with it.”
Colin went on to become a prolific high school athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. He then enrolled in University of Nevada (after not being heavily recruited because of his size) and went on to shock all scouts by throwing for over 10,000 yards and rushing for another 4,000 yards over his four years of playing. This feat had never before been accomplished by a Division I FBS quarterback. This performance resulted in the young phenom getting drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the NFL draft. He continued his dominance at the position by leading the team to Super Bowl XLVII (a game in which his team disappointingly finished second). Since this game, Colin regressed to the backup roll before recently stepping back in as the starter in the 2016 season. However, that is not all the 2016 season has brought.
During one of San Francisco’s 2016 preseason games, Colin remained seated during the national anthem, and all eyes were on him. Colin continued to sit or kneel during the anthem and has been joined in solidarity by others on his team and around the NFL. Colin said that he would continue his silent protests during the anthem until he saw “significant change” for minorities and surrounding the social unrest in our country. Then came the fallout.
Is it right for Kaepernick to protest in this way? How is this going to help accomplish what he wants to get done? Are protests an acceptable way of affecting change anyway? How could he be so disrespectful to the flag? The anthem? The soldiers and service members that have lost lives to protect our country and our rights? These are a sampling of the questions that were plastered all over popular social media platforms and news outlets. They were also some of the same questions proposed to the panel (that was kind enough to donate their time for this discussion) by session moderator, Dr. James Lee (chair of the Rochester Diversity and Inclusion Committee). The first question posed to the panel was if they believed the protest during the anthem was okay? From there, questions wound all the way to asking what we can do here at Mayo regarding this topic of protest and social unrest? I will do my best to give a concise summary.
The panel all seemed very agreeable that Kaepernick was well within his first amendment rights to be silently protesting during the anthem. All of the panel members further seemed to agree that peaceful protest is a very viable and legal way for individuals and groups to voice concern and plea for change. When protest is not okay is when it becomes violent or destructive in a way that infringes on the rights and wellbeing of others. This line of reasoning was voiced by multiple members on the panel. Panel member, Chris Schieffer, went on to speak a little bit from his military background. He voiced that he understood why some view kneeling during the anthem as disrespectful. The flag, national pride, and our anthem can be very representative for people of what our armed services have done for our country. It may represent the people that have died and what their collective sacrifice has given our country in the form of rights, freedoms, and privileges. However, Chris still voiced the importance, regardless of whether you agree with Kaepernick’s stance and action or not, of understanding why he feels the need to do this. Try to understand his background and the specific reasons he is protesting. This comment leads quite nicely into what the panel thought Mayo’s role was in responding to these social issues.
The panel, in my opinion, was expertly selected for this session. It was comprised of four very unique individuals with completely different ethnic backgrounds and upbringings. At least once during the session, each of the panel members spoke to the importance of how Mayo responds to discussions such as “taking a knee” along with many other socially based discussions that have been the flooding our news feeds for the past 18 months+. They all articulated the importance of discussion and specifically highlighted dialogue with those who have completely different backgrounds, views, and opinions than you. The ability to tactfully and respectfully chat about socially, politically, or racially charged topics without becoming angry, emotional, or violent towards others is a skill that everyone in our country (and world) should be focusing on. The differences we foster as a collective United States of America are what can make us stronger and better informed as a nation. Understanding and respecting the beliefs and thoughts of others can help us as individuals become better informed about people and humanity as a whole. It also may even help us strengthen our own thoughts and believes in an educational way. This seemed to be the resounding opinion of the panel on how Mayo Clinic can continue to be a beacon leading the informational and educational movement surrounding diversity and inclusion in the states.
My Brief Thoughts
I have to say I very much enjoyed this discussion and have had discussions similar to this with friends and peers of my own. I appreciated the panel and seeing how they were able to very respectfully and intelligently discuss a potentially emotionally charged issue such as this, even though there seemed to be occasional differing opinions within the panel itself. My main thought is: what next? How can we start turning these discussions into action? In a way, I look back to individuals such as Colin Kaepernick. I grew up playing football throughout high school and college and have idolized athletes throughout my life (as many youth do). I believe that individuals with the platform, influence, and resources that Kaepernick have can start to promote a paradigm shift in social and diversity understanding around our country. Yes, Colin is already using his position to protest during the anthem and bring attention to his cause. I also will not ignore the million dollars he donated to Silicon Valley Community Foundation and his activity on social media. Maybe it is unfair of me, but I expect more of those (including myself) who may want change and have the ability to make that happen.
There are so many ways for NFL players (and other professional athletes) to get involved with their community and with youth in their area. There are already many NFL athletes that are out there pursuing awesome initiatives. Philadelphia Eagles player, Connor Barwin, dedicated himself to re-vamping a park in South Philadelphia that was the location of much violence. During the project, Barwin and others consistently promoted “peace and tranquility” rather than giving any attention to the violence that was happening. Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, has tagged his Tuesdays as “Blue Tuesday” in which he spends time as Seattle Children’s Hospital to support the kids.
Hearing these examples, I have a vision. I plea that professional athletes (including Kaepernick) across the nation and across different disciplines (NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, WNBA, and many others) come together and partner with each other in efforts to help their local communities. They could partner with local police and fire departments to get into schools, provide mentorship programs for young men and women of any skin color, ethnicity, or background, build parks, offer skills camps, or any other need their community may face. It could provide an example for the youth of the country in how we need to treat people and begin the cultural shift of education, diversity, and inclusion that many are hoping for. There is no quick fix, no band-aid to be slapped on the current unrest. It may take years, even decades, to achieve countrywide respect and understanding. Let’s start pairing informative discussions and reactive protests with proactive solutions and action.
Resident Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Francios proposed a challenge to the crowd. He said that every day (especially if you represent the majority in your area) you should try surrounding yourself with a room of people who look very different and have very different opinions than you every day. As a mid-twenty year old, Caucasian, male individual from rural Minnesota, and someone always trying to understand more about those different from me, I say to you, Dr. Elvis Francios, challenge accepted.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the entire panel, Dr. James Lee for moderating, and the Rochester Diversity and Inclusion Committee and COM Diversity team for hosting the event. Thank you to all those that challenge themselves daily to surround themselves with individuals with very different backgrounds and views from their own and are open to learning and accepting those differences.
Author Bio: Domenic is a second year student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. As a kid, Domenic was fortunate enough to participate in mission trips to Sri Lanka (to rebuild after tsunami damage in 2004) and to Ecuador (medical mission trip in 2005). He hopes to continue international and national mission work when he becomes a practicing DPT.
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