Becky Kimmel

On Monday night in the Union, five panelists debated their views on the ‘Take-a-Knee’ movement at the Division of Student Affairs-sponsored event, Sports and Politics: Contextualizing the Take-a-Knee Movement.

The five panelists included philosophy professor David Schenk, senior politics major Satchel Johnsen, senior broadcasting and media production major Willie Hope, head wrestling coach Bryan Brunk, and  Director of Student Involvement and Leadership programs Kevin Villegas.

From left: Panelists Kevin Villegas, Bryan Brunk, Willie Hope, Satchel Johnsen, and David Shenk lead discussion at the Division of Student Affairs-sponsored event, Sports and Politics: Contextualizing the Take-a-Knee Movement.

The discussion began with a brief history of social activism and sports. Audience members were reminded of Eric Garner, a black man who was strangled to death by a Staten Island police officer, and the “I can’t breathe” t-shirts worn in support by NBA players following the event.

The audience was also reminded of Billie Jean King, the famous female tennis player who beat Bobby Riggs, U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, in the infamous 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. King took to the courts in opposition of the sexism she saw pervading sports and society at the time.

All this to say that the “Take-a-Knee” movement is not the first time students have seen politics present in the sports arena.

Logan Long, vice president of BSU, in giving some context to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, spoke of his ability to understand where Kaepernick is coming from. As an adopted child of two white parents, “Kaepernick was the only black kid in his classes, which I can relate to and so can many other minority students here at Messiah,” Long said.

Hope spoke of his own experiences, stating, “Going to an all-white high school, I stuck out because I looked so different. So when things like this would come into the news, I had to speak up.”

Johnsen, though in opposition to the movement, stressed his frustration with the way people talk past each other on this topic. “We are not going to solve any of these problems if we don’t talk to each other,” Johnsen said.

Schenk added that he supports “every legal and moral right to protest,” but he thinks the “Take-A-Knee” mechanisms are “sloppy—that they have failed spectacularly.”

“This movement is driven by emotion, not reason. It is one of division and increased alienation, and we know 2017 doesn’t need any more of that,” Schenk said. He added that organizers of the panel had a hard time finding a faculty member to speak on the opposition view, stating, “Let me assure you it’s not that they’re not present on campus, they just don’t want to take the heat.”

Kevin Villegas, a military veteran, said he tends not to weigh in on these kinds of issues, but once he saw the back-and-forth that began around the movement on social media, he felt he needed to speak up.

“I’m grateful that I served this country as a U.S. Marine,” said Villegas. “I truly appreciate that so many women and men feel that their service continues to support and defend a constitution that allows its citizens to express their views peacefully and without fear of retribution.”

Brunk recalled the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child who was shot dead by police while playing with a ton gun in a public park.

“I have two adopted sons who are black and two sons who are white. Now, I can let my white sons play in the yard with toy guns, but not my black sons,” Brunk said. “I always tell my team to use their platform as an athlete, whether to point people to Jesus Christ or to oppose social injustice.”

Some panelists, like Schenk, believe this movement has helped to foster continued division and alienation, not just in our nation, but on our campus. But Brunk and Villegas would argue that it’s the way of Christ to sometimes be disrespectful, citing other famous political movements such as the civil rights protests of Martin Luther King Jr. and the act of throwing tea overboard to protest the British Parliament’s tax on tea.

Themes of empathy, value of human life, and especially the role of Christians in this movement pervaded questions submitted by students and talking points of panelists. Brunk pointed out that it was the same people who supported Tim Tebow’s demonstrations of prayer during football games, who criticize Kaepernick and other kneeling athletes.

“I hope that because of this conversation, people learn to listen to each other, to empathize with each other,” Brunk said. “That’s something I’ve really challenged myself and my team to do in this situation—take a step back and listen to others before you speak.”

Villegas hopes to have a follow-up program compiling all the questions submitted that were not able to be asked at the discussion. He is optimistic that having these tough conversations, and having different perspectives represented within them, will lead to more dialogue and deeper listening among students.

Dorant Wells, a sophomore broadcasting and media production major and member of BSU, felt this discussion was a step in the right direction. “I believe this event was needed. And Schenk’s perspective was much needed. It’s important for people to hear opposing views and try to understand why they don’t see from the same perspective,” Wells said.

“Diversity of thought is important in debating these kinds of issues. Sometimes, what may sound like anger is really out of love for your fellow human beings,” Johnsen added.

In a time when most conversations descend into name-calling and ridicule before any real productivity can occur, this event showed that rational, yet real conversation can occur in a way that’s inclusive and that just might spark a change.