The duo was joined by current and former NFL players Arian Foster, Michael Thomas and Nate Boyer for a freewheeling discussion in which the couple tried to understand the goal behind players taking a knee when the anthem plays at football games.
The protest was started in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick who noted at the time that he was choosing to kneel in an effort to protest and draw attention to systemic racism and police brutality in the country. The move sparked a massive debate as critics began to see the movement pick up steam among other players and argued that it was disrespectful to the flag and military members who may be in attendance at games.
Kori noted that she wanted to understand the racial aspect of the protest given that they have a Black son. However, she admitted after the conversation that she previously was in the camp of people who thought kneeling for the anthem is a disrespectful gesture.
“The guys made the point that this is not hating America,” she explained in the episode. “This is a specific protest about police brutality and injustice against Black people. Once that came out and that message was kind of understood, people were more accepting of it, where at first it just felt like a total, just like, rejection of America and the values that we hold.”
She admitted that she, like many who now view kneeling as a regular part of NFL games, has softened her opinion on the issue as she tries to focus on systemic racism and police brutality — issues that have been kicked into high gear throughout the past year following the death of George Floyd.
Willie, on the other hand, was still not convinced of the appropriateness of protesting at games.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem if someone wants to wear a logo or something,” he said. “It’s when they got to the flag, of choosing that exact time to make your protest, I just felt like the flag should really bring us together… yeah, that just feels a little un-American.”
He went on to argue that he believes football games in general are a bad time to protest because no one tuning in wants to grapple with politics in that moment.
“I understand, though, wanting to change for sure,” he said. “It’s just like, is that the best time? You know? The flag and even, for me, football. When I watch football, I don’t want to be thinking about who the president is and what the politics are. I just want to watch either my favorite team or two teams go after it.”
Thomas, however, argued that professional football players, regardless of race, are looked at as leaders by many. Therefore, he believes he, as a Black player, has a responsibility to highlight issues plaguing the Black community.
“Everybody who took a knee, everybody who was fighting for social justice and using their voice and platform,” he explained. “We were just trying to say, ‘Look, if we’re looked at as leaders in our community, and we can talk about, you know, stopping domestic violence; we can talk about, like, you know, raising awareness for cancer, anti-bullying and stuff like that, when it comes to issues in the African American community, why can’t we be the leaders and the champions of that as well? And use our voice and platform and do it?'”
Korie added: “Because it is when people are watching/ If you have a platform and there’s a chance for you to get eyeballs on it, and you have something that’s really important to you, that’s probably a good time to do it.”
Still, Willie questioned whether or not it’s possible for the protests to go too far, using a hypothetical situation of a person at a wedding grabbing the microphone to champion a cause that they’re passionate about.
“If you look at the history of this country, it was literally founded on protests, you were literally running from Britain right?” Foster retorted. “You were protesting taxation, this is what this country was founded on was protests. So to say protesting is inappropriate at any time is just to me a lack of understanding of how this country even got started … there’s nothing more fundamentally American than a protest.”
He went on to note that Willie’s feeling of discomfort is normal as “protest is meant to be contentious. You’re always going to have people oppose it or else it’s not going to be a protest.”
“It’s never the right time, and the disconnect between the sides of this country is, there’s people saying, ‘It’s not right, things aren’t right’ and other people saying, ‘but it could be worse,’ and I’m like, ‘Well what are we here for if not to make this place better?’”
He also took a jab at Willie’s claim that football should just be about the game.
“Before the game, the American flag is flying, the national anthem is playing, you’ve got aircraft flying over, you’ve got … the Navy Seals jumping out,” Foster said. “You have what I would label as propaganda for the military and that’s literally the epitome of politics.”
The conversation concluded with Korie noting that these are important conversations to have and agreeing that there’s nothing wrong with speaking up when something doesn’t feel right to you.