The Right to Sit

Before the Niners’ preseason game on Aug. 26 against the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem. Since then his name has been in news headlines and he is trending on Twitter.

What is the problem with choosing not to stand? The No. 1 argument is that it is disrespectful to our county, our flag and our military. But there is no law saying that U.S. citizens are required to stand when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played. We aren’t the only country who stands when their national anthem is played. When other countries’ anthems are played, we are taught to stand out of a sign of respect. But what happens when that country isn’t respecting its citizens? Does that country still deserve a standing ovation?

Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem because he believes that America isn’t living up to what it was founded on.

“Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what is really going on in this country,” Kaepernick said following the game. “There are a lot of things going on that is unjust, people aren’t being held accountable, and that is something that needs to change. This country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all and that’s not happening right now.”

The main issue I’ve come to find from people who aren’t happy with Kaepernick’s stance is that it disrespects the military. Well, that’s not true. By choosing not to stand for the national anthem you are not disrespecting the U.S. military, you are exercising the very right that men and women in uniform have served and sacrificed for.

The First Amendment specifically states the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble. It is this amendment and the remainder of the constitution that our military is fighting for. They fight so that we all have the right to do what Kaepernick chose to do. If you don’t believe me, check out #VeteransForKaepernick.

In his Donkey of the Day segment, Charlamagne tha God chose Kaepernick as his Aug. 29 donkey. And in that radio segment he brought up a good point, the flag represents a system and America is a business — “like any place of employment, when you promise your employees certain rights and don’t deliver, those employees have the right to speak out and demand what is promised.”

Kaepernick is demanding what the United States of America has promised ALL of its citizens because now not ALL of us are receiving those so-called promises.

Kaepernick is one of several athletes who have spoken out on the issues of police brutality and the system of racism that still exists in this country. But there is something that separates Kaepernick from the ESPY speech of Carmello Anthony, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul. There is something that sets Kaepernick apart from all the rest. He is forcing you to take a side, forcing you to acknowledge that there needs to be some real change.

I think what many people need to ask themselves regarding the controversy — are you upset because he isn’t standing or are you upset with his reasoning for not standing? If the issue is solely with him not standing then, heads up, it is not an act of patriotism if we “need” to stand and if standing is the requirement you aren’t being patriotic for doing so. If your problem with Kaepernick’s stance is in regards to what he is standing for, then you are un-American for thinking that not all of America’s citizens deserve the same treatment and the same rights. If you think that all of America’s citizens receive the same treatment and the same rights, then you are blind.

In his op-ed to the Washington Post, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar voiced his support for Kaepernick and called his act highly patriotic, “What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after (Muhammad) Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities.” Ali, Smith, and Carlos are all black athletes who were once considered controversial for their protests but have since become iconic symbols of the U.S. civil rights movement.

I guess the real question is should we as a country celebrate how far we’ve come in regards to equality or continue to work toward improvement because we still have a long way to go? For me, we must continue to work on it and, because of that, I will continue to sit alongside Kaepernick on this one.

 

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All about that photofinish

There is something about that photo finish that makes me get butterflies in my stomach and sit at the edge of my chair.

The swimming competition brought us a few photo finishes in the first week of the 2016 Summer Olympics, but it has been at Olympic Stadium, where track and field has gotten underway in week two, where the best photo finishes have happened.

THE DIVE

Perhaps the most controversial event finish of the games thus far was the women’s 400-meter dash. One of the most anticipated races, it featured U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix, also known as the Queen of track. The four-time Olympic gold medalist was the favorite to win and she put up one heck of a fight but finishing the footrace on her feet led to a silver medal finish.

Heading into the final 200-meters it was unclear if Felix would even be able to make the podium, hanging with the middle of the pack, but in the final 100-meter she burst past the rest of the field and drew even with Bahamian Shaunae Miller. Miller had led throughout the race.

50-meters left and I knew it would be a photo finish. The two sprinters were neck and neck. I sat there in anticipation for the result. I thought Felix crossed first but then the photo went up on the screen and it was obvious that the gold was going to Miller who crossed the finish line in a diving fashion.

An avid track fan and a sprinter myself back in the day, the diving finish was an after thought for me. Miller definitely was not the first sprinter on the men’s or women’s side to do it, and yet almost immediately social media users went crazy saying Felix got robbed.

The question then became, did Miller fall or did she dive? Replay definitely made it look like she dove. A fall I can condone, you have so much momentum going into that finish line. Sprinters are taught to lean knowing that ones torso it what marks the finish, it’s quite easy to lose balance. To dive across the finish line is questionable but according to the track and field governing body, IAAF, it’s completely legal.

Clearly many think this is a terrible rule and I don’t disagree. There should be clarification, what constitutes as a fall and what constitutes as a dive. How can diving be allowed in what is described as a footrace?

I wish I could say Felix got robbed of a potential fifth gold medal but with the rules being as they are and me knowing she isn’t the first to do it, I can’t. Miller won and she did it by leaving everything out on the track.

THE KING AND HIS PRODIGY

Sometimes photo finishes aren’t about figuring out who the winner is sometimes it’s simply just about the photo. The men’s 200-meter semifinal provided one of those perfect photo moments.

Coming out of the turn Usain Bolt was in the lead and it was clear no one would be catching him. It became a race for the other automatic qualifying spot. Canada’s Andre De Grasse ran a great race. The further down the final stretch he got the further he pulled away from the rest of the field.

Then Bolt decided to slow down like he normally does in effort to save some energy. At 29-years-old it’s become a little more important in the sprinters routine. But De Grasse seemed to kick it up a notch, pushing Bolt to the finish line.

The reaction of the finish where the two runners neared and crossed the finish line with smiles on their faces was a positive one, but was it a positive one for the runners? Bolt seemed not entertained by the 21-year-olds antics. He is even quoted as saying, “it wasn’t cool.”

For some, Bolt’s reaction fuels the fire in the belief that the runner is too cocky. Bolt has every right to be cocky, but De Grasse has every right to push the envelope. Bolt can’t tell him how to run a race. Either way it will be entertaining to watch the two in the final.

Mental toughness brings home the gold

What makes an Olympic athlete? Of course amazing athletic talent, but one thing I think many fail to acknowledge is the extreme level of mental toughness that is required. Athletic talent can only take one so far. It’s the mental game that takes someone all the way.

Following a fifth-place finish in the men’s gymnastics team all-around, team member Alex Naddour told NBC, “Fifth in the world. It’s still pretty good.” Overall the team was disappointed in their finish.

The U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team is a perfect example of mental toughness. After finishing fifth at the 2012 London Games, the men felt they had much to prove in Rio. Unfortunately mistakes cost the team from making the medal stand, and they placed fifth once again.

Although disappointed, there was still plenty of gymnastics left, and the men’s mental toughness would decide how the remainder of the games would go. Two nights after the team all-around, team captain Chris Brooks and Sam Mikulak returned to the arena for the men’s individual all-around, where they finished 14th and seventh, respectively, out of a field of 24. The individual event finals still remain. There really is a lot of gymnastics left.

Watching the Olympics one can see the mental toughness of these athletes in every event. In volleyball a team gives up a set — will players be strong enough to win it back or will they let the woes of one set determine the overall outcome?

The pool has been another great avenue for mental toughness. America’s Missy Franklin, a breakout star in 2012, almost didn’t make the team for Rio, and many don’t have high expectations for her now that she is there. But despite a rough last three years in the pool, Franklin continues to be praised for her steadfast positivity, and she won’t be leaving the games empty-handed. She helped the women’s 4×200-meter relay team win gold and has a chance of making the podium in the 200-meter backstroke.

For as long as these athletes have been molding and perfecting their athletic talents, they have been doing the same to their brains. Obsession. It’s a word that holds a negative connotation, but it is what is required to make the Olympic stage. Mental toughness starts with the ability to wake up every morning and not skip a workout, knowing that if you do you are taking a step away from accomplishing your dream.

That mental toughness continues to grow with every competition. Not all of these Olympians were stars straight out of the gate. Some of them failed time and time again, but unlike some who turned their backs on the sport thinking they didn’t have the talent, Olympians persevere.

We can see this mental toughness with great athletes around the world, and it is this mental toughness that professional athlete hopefuls should be taking note of. If you can’t drop the baton in the 4×100-meter relay and get back on the track to win the 200-meter dash, the Olympics are not for you.

“Never give up,” is a saying used in all aspects of life, but sports have adopted it as their own moniker. We learn the greatest perseverance through sports. There is always going to be a winner and a loser, but what are you willing to give up, what are you willing to do, to ensure that winning is a possibility?

Just take it from the dominant Simone Biles.

“If you ever have a mistake, you try to just kind of forget about it because if you carry that with you for the rest of the routine then the rest of your routine might not go as planned,” she said. “So you just kind of shake it off and you just continue your routine like you didn’t fall.”

Olympic Integrity Threatened

One week out from the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games and a shadow of doubt has been cast. On Sunday the International Olympic Committee made the decision to not put a blanket ban on Russia. This decision does not sit well with me. Through this fiasco I believe the IOC has failed both athletes and spectators and I am not alone.

Joseph de Pencier, CEO of iNado, the membership association of National Anti-Doping Organizations, released this statement following the IOC’s decision: “The IOC Executive Committee has failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sport system. It has ignored the calls of clean athletes, a multitude of athlete organizations, and of leading National Anti-Doping Organizations, to do the right thing by excluding Russia from the Rio Olympic Games.”

On July 18, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a 97-page report that charged Russia with operating a state-run doping program spanning 30 sports over several years. All the report did was confirm the accusations that have been floating around in the year leading up to Rio de Janeiro.

This is the worst doping scandal in history, and the IOC in a way turned a blind eye. Without a blanket ban I fear that other countries will believe that they can get away with the same thing. There was an opportunity here to send a message that the Olympics will have a zero-tolerance policy, but instead from this day forward the IOC will never be able to completely ban a country for abusing the system or fooling around with performance enhancing drugs.

IOC President Thomas Bach said that he felt comfortable with the decision because it protects and respects the rights of clean athletes. While I know that not all 387 originally listed Russian athletes were a part of the original scandal or had doped in the past, their suffering is what would have set fear into the hearts of all athletes and countries.

If the IOC had enforced a blanket ban on Russia, I would feel bad for the athletes who had stayed clean. In order to get to this point in their career they’ve put in a crazy amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, but the fact of the matter is the country that they represent messed up. It failed them.

Without a blanket ban the IOC is leaving it up to the 28 individual federations that govern each sport to make the final decision on who can compete. Of the original 387 listed Russian athletes, 110 have already been banned. The International Association of Athletics Federation, the governing body for track and field, announced back in June that no one from Russia would be allowed to compete in Rio. But other governing bodies like gymnastics prefer to see Russia competing, and gatekeepers like tennis officials have said that all the Russian athletes have cleared their screening policy.

Some federations fear they face immense backlash and potential damage claims if they choose to block athletes from competing. Perhaps it’s this same fear that prompted the IOC from not placing a blanket ban. Russia is a powerhouse and a country the IOC probably wants to keep on its good side. The IOC wouldn’t be the first to bow down to Vladimir Putin.

I can’t say that a blanket ban would get rid of doping within international sport or the Olympics, but it would definitely make a difference. The sanctions placed on Russia probably won’t keep out all doping athletes, and I am sure Russians aren’t the only ones. The issue now is that by allowing Russia to compete, every time Russians make the podium I will wonder if they deserve it and if they are stealing it away from someone who earned it the “right” way.

When is enough…enough?

When is enough…enough? That is the question I asked myself Thursday morning. On July 21 the latest incident surrounding the 2016 Olympic Summer Game’s took place. 10 Brazilians were arrested for allegedly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State on social media and discussed possible attacks during the Games.

Sadly it comes as no surprise to me that this happened. Why wouldn’t ISIS try to find a way to target the Olympics? The attack would draw maximum media coverage as well as be highly symbolic.

On July 20, the SITE Intelligence group found out that jihadi terrorist groups had begun to use messaging apps to urge followers to attack the Olympics in Rio. Messages were even being distributed in Portuguese in an attempt to radicalize Brazilian citizens. This method has rarely been used in the past but you can count on ISIS to go to whatever lengths necessary.

The arrests were made in 10 different Brazilian states. Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said the individuals were “complete amateurs and ill-prepared” but that doesn’t make the situation any better.

Security for the Game’s has already come under extreme scrutiny. On June 3, CNN reported that gun battles are semi-regular occurrences in the host city. In the first four months of 2016 robberies increased by 24-percent and murders increased to 16-percent. Going along with murders, in June body parts washed up onto the beach where the beach volleyball events will be held and in May, Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo told his 400,000 plus Instagram followers not to attend the Olympics following the murder of a 17-year-old girl.

The financial crisis in the country even has police officers at wits end. Brazilian police officers upset with the lack of funding stepped up their public protests on July 6, greeting tourists at the Rio airport with signs that read “Welcome to hell” and “Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” But the Olympic committee continues to insist there will be 85,000 police and security deployed during the games. Brazil can’t even protect and control its own population, so why would I trust them to keep the millions of people traveling to the country, both athlete and spectator, safe?

The country has been in a state of political unrest for nearly two years now due to the financial crisis only getting worse. Riots both violent and not have been taking place throughout the country since 2014. Just take a look at what was going on during the 2014 World Cup.

When the Games begin on Aug. 5 the Olympic Committee will do its best to hide the social, political and physical upheaval that is taking place. But for those who have plans or are making plans to attend just know that you are stepping into a state of uncertainty on all fronts. In addition to the potential of violence and insecurity, there are cases for environmental breakdown and global pandemic.

Just two weeks out from the opening ceremonies it’s hard to believe that the Olympic Committee will heed the multiple requests in favor of cancelling/postponing the games. On that note I say keep the savings in the bank and plan for Tokyo 2020, Rio really isn’t worth the risks.

For a complete breakdown of everything that has gone wrong in the build up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Game’s read Christian D’Andrea’s article on SB Nation at http://www.sbnation.com/2016/7/15/12122676/olympic-games-2016-rio-zika-security-budget-brazil?yptr=yahoo.

Play like a girl

Earlier this month I learned that 70-percent of kids are quitting sports by age 13. It’s a startling statistic but what I learned earlier this week is even more alarming. Of that original 70 percent, 47 percent are girls.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. And according to a survey sponsored by Always, by age 17, more than half of the girls, 51 percent, will have quit sports. More than 1,000 girls ages of 16 to 24 participated.

In last week’s column, I delved into the idea that sports just aren’t “fun anymore.” But with girls there seems to be a different driving factor. According to the Always survey, seven out of 10 girls quit sports during puberty because they felt like they didn’t belong. Another 67 percent said they felt society doesn’t encourage girls to play sports.

Not sure if you’ve heard of the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always, but it is these numbers that led to its creation. In the last year, Always has published multiple videos with the hope of inspiring girls to stay in the game. That is definitely something I can rally around.

No one can deny the benefits of sports in the lives of youth. The health benefits are just the beginning. Sports have the ability to teach us skills that can be used throughout the rest of our lives. With girls participating in sports at a lower rate than boys, they are missing out.

Confidence is the No. 1 thing that comes to mind when I think of what sports can offer all kids, but especially girls who deal with dramatic drops in confidence levels around puberty. Confidence is vital as we grow up, leave home and enter the workforce. Confidence is what we need in order to know our worth. One fact that has come about in trying to understand the gender pay gap is that women oftentimes underestimate their self worth. We are willing to work for less and we ask for less than men wanting the same position with the same skill set.

Learning to compete is another skill that sports teach. Oftentimes, girls are pushed away from competitive atmospheres because they aren’t deemed “ladylike.” Without a positive competitive atmosphere, girls inadvertently learn to feel guilty when their success outshines someone else’s. Once again this doesn’t help in the professional world where women continue to be outnumbered by men. Men are taught that competition is good and take fun in competing with friends on a day-to-day basis. From a young age, males turn everything and anything into a competition, girls are taught the opposite. This puts women at a disadvantage when trying to compete for senior roles.

According to a global study by Ernst & Young and espnW, 61 percent of female executives said sports contributed to their career and success. To add to that, 94 percent of women in the C-suite played sports, 52 percent at the university level.

Sports can also teach girls about teamwork and how to overcome adversity. And yet, girls feel that these skills aren’t meant for them. In a different national Always-sponsored survey, of 1,800 people, 89 percent of girls ages 16-24 feel there is pressure to conform to the way a girl is supposed to feel and act.

Its 2016, it’s been 44 years since Title IX was passed. Girls today have more opportunities than girls of the 1960s and yet the social and cultural stigmas from then have persisted.

The only way things are going to change is by changing how we as a society view gender roles. We need to believe and act upon the idea that girls and boys have the same capabilities and we need to prepare both for success in the same way.

For access to the surveys mentioned in this column visit, https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/support-us/do-you-know-the-factors-influencing-girls-participation-in-sports and http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160628005793/en.

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I was a part of the Michigan State Women’s Rowing team my freshman year of college.

What do when ‘it’s not fun anymore’

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Kids playing little league baseball in Hawaii

Earlier this month I came across a column published by the Washington Post where the author explained her thoughts on a startling statistic. According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. Along with its findings, NAYS stated the reason for this exodus having to do with the fact that “it’s just not fun anymore.”

In her column in the Washington Post, Julianna W. Miner shared her thoughts on why she believes this reasoning to be true: Sports aren’t designed to be fun anymore, our culture no longer supports older kids playing for the fun of it, there is a clear push for kids to specialize, there is a cost to being competitive, and “it’s just the age.”

I can agree that 13 is a weird age. We are at our most vulnerable and most influential. Even at the high school level it’s noticeable that our peers influence our decisions from whether to go to class, to take AP or honors level academic courses or try out for a sports team.

The idea of needing to specialize influenced almost all of Miner’s points. When I was in middle school and high school, the biggest reason for teammates quitting was the simple fact that they were burnt out. They weren’t playing for the love of the game anymore. The feeling of needing to specialize is crazy these days. Kids from a young age are taught that if they want to be the best soccer player in the world, then all their focus needs to be on soccer.

The need to specialize and be the best, when we can’t all be the best, creates a negative environment around sports. It’s an environment that we need to actively work to remove. Participating in other sports and other activities can be helpful. Basketball can teach soccer players better ball movement since it’s a smaller playing area. Track can teach athletes how to run properly as well as build speed and endurance. Dedication and practice can come in multiple ways, and sometimes getting involved in other activities can help people discover that they have been chasing the wrong passion.

The LeBron James’ and Lionel Messis of the world show us that if we dedicate our time and work hard that we have the potential to be the best. But at the same time they teach us that we need to love it. The love for whatever it is that we do is what makes all the work we put in worthwhile. Even if you don’t become the next Tom Brady, your love for football doesn’t change.

Where I feel Miner missed the mark are her thoughts on competition. Growing up I had one of those dads who was not about that participation trophy life. If he had to pay for it, I wasn’t getting one. I grew up when the idea of participation trophies came to life, and they are now in full swing.

I believe being awarded for participation is one of the reasons kids are quitting. They don’t understand the idea of competition. It’s not that things have gotten too competitive. We are setting athletes up for failure if we teach them from their first season that everyone gets rewarded.

If the kid who scored the most goals and the kid who scored no goals get the same reward at the end of the season, what is that teaching the kid who scored no goals about hard work? How are we preparing them for not making the school team? It’s these kids who are hanging up their jerseys when the going gets tough.

Sports not only offer the start of a healthy lifestyle, it provides kids with life skills. From day one participants learn teamwork and dedication. They experience success and see what got them there. They experience failure and learn that it will only make them stronger.

I’m not sure why 70 percent of 13-year-olds are saying so long to sports but we need to find a way to change it.

To read Miner’s column visit, washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/06/01/why-70-percent-of-kids-quit-sports-by-age-13.