US Veterans Weigh in on NFL Players Taking a Knee

In the US Army, taking a knee has a special connotation. 

 

Before Sunday’s lineup of NFL games, over 100 players from several different teams took Colin Kaepernick’s lead from last year, and in silent protest took knees, locked arms, or stayed off the field entirely, before Sunday’s games. President Donald Trump responded with two tweets which together said, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”


The president has followed with a steady stream of tweets about the subject since then, including:

Roger Goodell of NFL just put out a statement trying to justify the total disrespect certain players show to our country.Tell them to stand!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

Some conservatives believe that since NFL players enjoy fortune and celebrity, they aren’t in fact victims of prejudice. And that taking a knee or locking arms during the national anthem is a disrespect to the nation’s veterans who put their lives on the line, or to those who lost them, in defense of freedom and liberty.

On the other hand, liberals believe that it’s one’s right to protest according to the 1st amendment, that the actions were peaceful, and that African-Americans have legitimate concerns when it comes to police violence and systemic racism. Liberal-minded spectators saw this as an overall protest of racial injustice, while certain conservatives saw it as a direct protest against the president.

The Twitterverse exploded in debate soon after and the fury picked up on Monday, with many conservatives rallying around the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem and liberals circling around #TakeaKnee. In many conservative channels, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, became a hero. He was the lone Steeler who stood for the anthem in Sunday’s game.


Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva stands for the national anthem. Getty Images.

The country’s divide was once again made glaringly apparent as this new front in the culture wars flared up. Since then, a number of celebrities, pundits, and media personalities have weighed in. Fox News commentator Bryan Dean Wright wrote that such protests inflame racial divides, rather than merely calling attention to inequity. He said he’d rather players, “lead a constructive conversation on race.”

To the contrary, a piece in Foreign Policy magazine by veteran military journalist Thomas E. Ricks outlines the US Army tradition of “taking a knee” as something to admire, and be emulated. It’s taking a breather—a chance to step back for a moment, gather one’s thoughts and reconsider the situation. “I kind of like the idea of the nation taking a knee and considering our racial situation, and how we can all do better,” he wrote. “You know we can.”


U.S. Army Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, take a knee to talk and reassess in Afghanistan, June 12, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Robert Porter.

Of course, the beautiful thing about the digital era is we can easily see what veterans themselves think. Legions took to the character-restricted social media site to voice their opinion.

Some felt certain parties used them to serve their own side:

I'm one of countless military veterans taking a knee. Do not exploit our service to silence black Americans and endorse racism.#TakeaKnee

— Charles Clymer

Others merely showed solidarity:

Im a veteran and i served so we all have rights and are free i will be taking a knee from here on out we must stand together. #TakeAKnee

— Amanda Alonzo ☺️ (@army_brat_fit) September 24, 2017
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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.