To Kneel Or Not To Kneel: A Very Personal Decision

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,

Luke [22:41] 

When my daughters were in grade school, I volunteered to be their soccer coach. One of my duties was to not only coach the basics of soccer but also to ensure they knew the appropriate behavior on the field. One of these items was for them to take a knee or kneel when a player became injured. And they would ask, why are we supposed to that?

My reply to them had two reasons. The first, to ensure that there was room for the injured player to receive help from the coaches and any medical staff. The second was that it was a sign of respect for the injured player. Once explained, the players always followed the rule.

When you look up the history of kneeling and its definition, you come up with two standard definitions. The first is kneeling in prayer, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when praying about the events that would occur on Good Friday, which is described in today’s verse. A respectful position when talking with God. The second, is a position of submission, as would occur with a prisoner or someone being attacked. Kneeling became a word sometime before the 12th century.

Today, kneeling has become a flashpoint of debate, especially in professional sports. Some players kneel and others don’t. On one side it is a call for improvements in social justice. On the other side is not kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, but standing, which is seen as a patriotic sign of respect for our country. As well as, respect for those who served to protect our country. Both sides will claim they are right and unfortunately kneeling during the national anthem has become a subject of much debate.

Before the Boston Red Sox opening day baseball game this year, their outfielder, Jackie Bradley, opted to kneel. This was a hard decision for Bradley, an unusually quiet and respectful person. He explained his decision as follows; I think about struggle, a lot of pain that a lot of people have been through, and I just think about the next generation behind me as well. We want things to be better and we want more love.

A little background on Bradley, as a Red Sox he has always carried himself with a quiet respectful air. When he makes a great catch, and as one the league’s best defensive outfielders he makes them a lot, there is no showboating. He simply throws the ball back to the infield and acknowledges politely the cheers. He is a good clubhouse person and always the one to lead with a thoughtful remark. Jackie has only played for the Red Sox and has won two World Series.

Bradley is also a good local citizen and contributes his time and money to the local community. So is Bradley showing disrespect? I don’t think so. Rather, I think he is making a statement politely that he wants our country to love all people better. There is nothing in his background to make us fans think otherwise, but he has experienced and seen racism.

Mookie Betts a former Red Sox and now with the Dodgers, also knelt and had another point of view, similar to Jackie, but slightly different. His point of view is; I wasn’t educated. That’s my fault. I need to be educated on the situation. I know my dad served and I’ll never disrespect the flag, but there’s also gotta be change in the world, and kneeling has nothing to do with those who served our country.”

Betts like Bradley is a wonderful young man, whose standard facial expression is a smile. When one of his teammates hits a home run. He is the first to greet them on their way back to the dugout. Despite being one of baseball’s great stars, he takes their bat and helmet and then puts both away in the racks that line the dugout. Betts, like Bradley, doesn’t get into prolonged arguments with umpires, and very seldom do you see anything but a smile.

Betts’s kneel was a statement of support for social justice. A decision that was very hard for him because of his dad. He doesn’t mean disrespect. And most of the time he will stand to honor those like his dad, who served.

Stephon Truitt the star defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, will not kneel during the playing of the national anthem. He states that he is, a proud American and he will always stand. He explains his position based on his grandmother’s life, by saying; My grandmother was an immigrant from the Caribbean and . . . worked her butt off to bring 20 people over the right way. She had no money and educated herself to be a nurse. She is living well now.”

Truitt is a no-nonsense leader, who follows his own mind and isn’t easily swayed by arguments that are fashionable. This is what he believes and is willing to go against the grain.

All three of these athletes have well thought out positions. Each position deeply personal and developed through critical thinking. All three are African Americans.

Three different points of view about kneeling, and for these individuals, very personal decisions. None desire that their actions be taken by others personally. It’s their life experiences and it is how they feel. These three men are not limelight pursuers. They are humble men with conviction.

And that is the point, it is not about taking sides, but knowing the hearts of the people that have taken their individual positions. This kneeling question has no universal answer because it is a reflection of life experiences. Some of us feel very strongly about the value of our flag and what it represents. Others want our country to see that not all are afforded equality of opportunity.

It seems to me both positions have value. We do live in a great country and are surrounded by many who prize and fought for our freedom. As well, our country should constantly strive to do better in providing equality of opportunity. Because we are Americans, both opinions should and can be expressed. This isn’t an issue that can be defined with absolute certainty of correctness. Rather it is an issue that has many facets and listening is more important than taking a side.

For me, I will always stand. The flag represents the opportunities that I inherited by being American. But I also know, others haven’t had the same access to a life of unlimited opportunities. When those who are limited kneel, it makes me want to work harder to fight for their equality of opportunity.

Jesus kneeled in the garden, out of respect for God, and showed his submission. He spoke his famous words in this position; not my will but yours be done. Kneeling is a sacred act when done with an honest and pure heart. And over these many centuries, many have assumed this position to seek the truth and express their desires. And many more will in the future. In each individual case kneeling is a very personal individual decision.

Like many issues, kneeling isn’t an issue with which to take sides. Rather it is one with which praying will help us understand, perhaps kneeling while we do.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash