KRAVITZ: Fever protest social and racial injustice by kneeling during the anthem

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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - I choose to stand for the national anthem. That is my choice. That is my right.

And yet, I have great respect and admiration for those who choose not to stand, who choose to protest racial injustice in a great country that can do so much better, especially when it involves law enforcement and people of color. Given the events of the last few months, given the more recent events in Charlotte, how can you begrudge citizens, armed with the right to protest, for symbolically speaking their minds?

Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the protest movement reached greater critical mass when the entire Indiana Fever team locked arms and kneeled on the basketball floor before their season-ending 89-78 playoff loss to the Phoenix Mercury. Two Mercury players, Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone, also kneeled during the anthem.

In other cities, we’ve seen a handful of athletes sit or kneel during the national anthem, following up on a movement started this preseason by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But it’s been a player here, a player there on several teams in several sports.

The Fever, though, chose to do it together, a show of both unity and protest for what’s happening on the streets of America.

“I just hope it opens people’s eyes to what’s really going on,’’ Fever center Erlana Larkins said. “We just had two people killed in the last two days. People are angry and they have their strong opinions on how we’re doing this, how this is disrespecting veterans, but it has nothing to do with that. It’s about injustice. One person (killed) was handicapped and another one was on the side of the road, and it’s horrible.

“I have a brother, nephews, cousins and friends and it’s sad to know that people who are supposed to protect and serve are not doing it. They have a license to kill now.

“We know there’s going to be backlash, but if we cared about backlash, we never would have done it. It’s just sad that people have negative things to say about what’s being done by athletes. I mean, when the whole Black Lives Matter movement started, we were on a stage and felt like everybody’s got to use their voice. There are people who aren’t going to like this, but what if that was your son being killed? But because they’re not black, they don’t know how it feels.’’

Naturally, Twitter exploded as only Twitter can, angry observers calling for boycotts of the Fever, suggesting the players showed a lack of respect for the flag and toward veterans. And yet, it’s those veterans, those men and women who put their lives on the line for our country, who fight for a way of life that gives us all the right to protest in any way we see fit. And wasn’t America formed as a protest movement against the English crown?

“We’re just trying to create awareness,’’ guard Briann January said. “It’s something we feel very strong about and anything we can do to create change, we’ll do that. We want to bring people together because we feel that if we all have an understanding, we can start making changes. Actions like this create the conversations that create change.

“…It was nice that everybody supported that action and we wanted to do it together. I’m very proud of my teammates.

“Honestly, the backlash, that creates those conversations…It’s just right and wrong. People saying it’s anti-this and anti-that and pro-this, it’s not about any of that. It’s about right and wrong and trying to create change. We want to keep this relevant. You know, a lot of times these things happen and people do it for like a week, but we have to keep people thinking about it. Because if it’s not a topic, if it’s not a conversation, there will be no action.’’

Did it overshadow Tamika Catchings’ final game as a WNBA legend? Surely, it did. This is the dominant story today, not Catchings emotional farewell. And yet, Catchings was not disturbed by it, not in the least. Truth is, she was proud of her teammates, who earlier this year wore T-shirts supporting both Black Lives Matter and the Dallas police officers who lost their lives.

“I’m just proud of this team,’’ Catchings said. “It was something that was very impromptu. Everything we stand for, not just us but players across the league, we stand united. It sends a strong message when players are willing as people, not necessarily as athletes, see what’s going on outside in the world and are able to stand firm in what we believe (in terms of) social injustice.’’

Fever coaches and management were not aware that the team had planned to kneel during the anthem, but were not upset at the players’ decision to do something we haven’t yet seen – an entire team kneeling during the anthem.

“Our players are passionate and united about keeping the conversation going around violence and black lives in our country,’’ general manager Kelly Krauskopf said.

Head coach Stephanie White, who coached her last game here before leaving for Vanderbilt, was supportive as well.

“I didn’t know they were going to (kneel) but I’m proud that they are unified,’’ she said. “I’m proud that they talk about it and do things together. I think that there’s a respectful way to affect social change and I think any time our players have a conversation about doing it in a respectful way, I appreciate that and I applaud them for it.’’

United they stand. Or sit. Or kneel. You don’t have to like it. But you have to talk about it. Which is, in the end, the entire point.