The Genuflecting Athletes

Are you noticing all of the National Football League players who are “taking a knee” during the American National Anthem this weekend? The gesture is being interpreted as a sign of protest against the recent comments of the President of the United Sates.

Until recently, though, the gesture was never defined as a symbol of protest. Quite the contrary, it always represented a symbol of extreme respect and reverence.

The physical position is called “genuflection.” Most Americans will recognize it as  the traditional posture that people assume to propose marriage.

And throughout history, individuals assumed the stance when meeting royalty, noblemen, and high priests. The practice can be traced back to the time of Alexander The Great, and perhaps even further.

People of the Catholic faith also genuflect at certain times during Mass. There is certainly no hint of protest in that venue!

So why is the gesture now utilized as a sign of dissent during the National Anthem? Perhaps the kneeling players wish to indicate that they continue to honor their nation, even as they protest some of its flaws.

That’s a complicated interpretation, isn’t it? And yet it’s no more complex than the origins of the players’ decisions to engage in it.