why do we kneel?

It happened again. 

The crowd was silenced. The players sobered. In inaudible unison, the masses knelt. Not only did they kneel, they instinctively knew it was a wise thing to do.

Our country hasn’t quite figured out the kneeling thing, friends.

On January 2nd, during Monday Night Football, when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field, players knew to kneel.

During the height of the tendentious Black Lives Matter protests, multiple professional athletes repeatedly took a knee during the playing of our National Anthem.

And an otherwise unknown high school football coach from Washington state became significantly more well known in recent years, as he knelt at the conclusion of every gridiron contest. 

I think it’s interesting when we’re ok with kneeling. And when we’re not.

When we know to do it. And when we do not.

First and foremost, in our country we are guaranteed the right to free expression and association; it’s covered via the First Amendment. It’s why the government cannot forbid us from saying and writing what we like. It’s why individual offense is not a sustainable argument. Regardless of those who attempt to silence dissent, we each have the right to hold our own opinions and express them freely without government interference, assuming in our expression, we behave responsibly and respect the same rights of others.

So let us ask the key, relevant question: what does it mean to kneel?

Kneeling has historically been a sign of reverence, deference, submission, humility and vulnerability. We kneel to propose. We kneel to pray. We kneel to express the depth of our gratitude.

The question, therefore, when we kneel, is who are we revering? Who are we deferring to? To whom are we submitting? And what levels of humility and vulnerability are an authentic part of our public display?

The high school coach mentioned above is a man named Joseph Kennedy. He knelt at midfield at the conclusion of games to offer quiet personal prayer. He initially prayed alone. Students voluntarily started joining him. The school district asked him to stop. To be clear, they did not ask him to stop leading prayers with the team; they demanded he stop kneeling and praying quietly. The district forbid his prayer, and when Kennedy did not comply, he was fired.

The district’s sole reason for termination was found to be their perceived “risk of constitutional liability.” They were concerned about being sued by other students. The Supreme Court would decidedly rule last year that Kennedy had a right to publicly kneel and pray. As written in the majority opinion, “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

So for those who prayed for Damar Hamlin… those who protested during the National Anthem… and for the coach from Washington state… each has a right to do what they do. But the way in which a watching world responds will depend upon the reverence, deference, submission, humility and vulnerability evident in their act. That goes for religious and nonreligious acts alike.

Last weekend the NFL playoffs began. Near the end of the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bucs wideout Russell Gage attempted to make a sliding catch at the Cowboys 7-yard line. He was hit, fell, and tried to stand up. But he couldn’t. He appeared to attempt to lift his neck and head multiple times. But again, he couldn’t.

With fresh in their minds what happened to Hamlin, medical staff rushed onto the field and multiple players from both teams stayed put nearby on the field. Others walked on, encircling the once more sobering scene. And together, they chose to kneel.

The reverence, deference, submission, humility and vulnerability — all of the above, so-to-speak — were immediately obvious. Gage needed help. From someone other than they.

No doubt there are crucial reasons why we kneel.