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Raising Fists to Raise Awareness

Glenn Rohrbacker

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Colin Kaepernick went from being an average NFL quarterback to being the most famous person in the country. However, his fame came at a price. Perhaps one of the most divided issues in this country, race relations, was brought to the forefront of the political scene, simply because he chose not to stand during the national anthem during a football game last month.

His stance was rooted in a dissatisfaction with the way African Americans have been treated, specifically by police, in the United States. His protest was met with support from a lot of people who agree with him and the cause he represents. It was also met with incredible backlash from people who felt insulted by his actions, and felt he was being disrespectful to the country and those who live and serve here.

Recently, members of U.N.H.’s own Chargers football team have joined Kaepernick in bringing awareness to the issue of race relations in this country. A group of players have been raising their fists during the performance of the national anthem during both home and away football games. This is more than a social issue to them – it is a personal one.

The action began from UNH Wide Receiver Rishawn Harris, who is a senior sports management major. He started by taking a stand beginning the game on September 11. He almost took a knee, but out of respect he decided that putting up a fist would be more appropriate for the day.

Harris then took it a step further and mentioned it to fellow teammate Ty Headena UNH graduate student, who then joined in the statement. Eventually, other members of the team followed suit through conversation with friends and talk in the locker room. They didn’t request others to join, but merely opened up the option for them to join and stand together on a cause that means so much to them.

The action of putting up one’s fist during the game should be not be taken as a protest. Quarterback and UNH senior Ajee Patterson is adamant about discouraging the use of the word “protest” in this statement. “I don’t want it to be called a protest because it’s not a protest. We honestly just want to bring awareness,” he said.

The players are very aware of the backlash that Kaepernick received and think that it’s the simple reason of not being educated on the subject.

“You don’t understand where he’s coming from, so that’s why you’re angry. Instead of people bashing him for what he’s doing, they should ask him why he’s doing it,” said Headen.

Patterson agrees with the fact that people don’t understand the real issue that’s going on in the country. According to him, it’s a big problem and people are scared because of what is going on. In an almost shocking anecdote, he talked about how he and his friends have had to tell each other to watch out and be extremely careful when just walking around.

“People don’t understand it because they don’t have to deal with what we deal with every day being racially profiled,” Headen noted.

Patterson, Headen, and Harris all cite personal experiences they have had with police brutality, profiling, and unfairness. Harris mentions a close friend who was accused of being affiliated with an incident that happened near him, simply because of his color. The friend ended up being beaten by the officer, with pictures to prove it.

This is the kind of behavior Ty Headen sees on the streets of his hometown in New Jersey every day.

“I have never been a bad kid, and nobody has ever seen me as a bad kid, but I personally have been harassed by cops,” he added.

A lot of arguments have revolved around black lives vs. blue lives, when the people most affected by the disconnect want nothing more than to coexist peacefully, rather than compete with one another.

“There are good cops who get up in the morning and want to go in and do their job and serve our country,” Patterson said.

Education seems to be the biggest way people can heal the divide between cultures and races, at least from what these players say about what they think will help.

“I just want you to hear what I’m saying and hear where I’m coming from and just be compassionate about what we go through. You don’t have to go through what I go through but if you have a sense of understanding, that’s enough for me,” Headen said.

Both Patterson and Headen think there needs to be some reform in the way police officers are trained. They don’t necessarily mean in terms of using force and physical action, but more in the way officers simply look for people they suspect is of fault. Profiling people based on vague features, one of them being race, only creates a volatile relationship between communities and police.

There hasn’t been any open backlash for the actions of the football players, and the coaches of the team are supportive of the players in their decision. In an interview with sportzedge.com about the players’ statement, Head Coach Chris Pincince explained his support.

“We let them have their own opinions. Everybody’s a little bit different, comes from different backgrounds and has different beliefs and I think that they’re acting accordingly,” he said.

During a short conversation on what is one of the biggest issues in this country, there were no mentions of “black lives matter,” any political party or presidential candidate, any disrespect towards police or authority, or any unreasonable requests. This was three African American men who want to see real change in how people of color are treated in this country and by putting their fists up during the national anthem, they can show their support for the movement that is so personal to all of them.

Glenn Rohrbacker, Editor-in-Chief

Glenn Rohrbacker is a junior at the University of New Haven studying communications with a concentration in journalism and minors in Political Science...

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Raising Fists to Raise Awareness