I Took a Knee for the Anthem Before an Alumni Basketball Game ... but I Just Felt Silly

Illustration for article titled I Took a Knee for the Anthem Before an Alumni Basketball Game ... but I Just Felt Silly
Photo: Sean M. Haffey (Getty Images)

I am currently still recovering from the alumni basketball game I played in last weekend, a process that, considering how my back and knee(s) and throat and chest and spleen feel right now, will likely last until June (of 2019). I am hydrating frequently; I am taking longer-than-usual showers; I’ve developed an intimate relationship with ice; and I have packets of Advil and shots of Jack stashed in more-convenient-than-usual places.


As far as the game itself, we won 99-98. I was a starter—which, as my performance during the game proved, was a status more due to “How good was he during his prime?” than “How good is this nigga right now?” Mind you, I didn’t play terribly. We somehow, through some mystical force, played better when I was on the court than when I was off it. If plus/minus were kept, mine would have (probably) been +10 or more. And I had (at least) six assists! I also had zero turnovers ... which also happened to be the number of points I scored and shots I took.

I’ve told myself in the days since the game was played that me not shooting was intentional, because we had other (younger) guys who could do that, and they needed a steady, veteran hand out there. To be a “coach on the floor” and “play the right way.” But the reality is that I was fine the first six minutes I played. And then I was subbed out. And then I sat down for a decent stretch. And then, when I got back out there, my knees and my back both screamed, “Nigga, I thought we were done!” By then, bringing the ball up the court to pass to open people and then get the fuck out of the way was literally the only thing I could do.

(If you click on the pic attached to that tweet, you can see me on the bench with a knee brace the size of my head and vaguely inappropriate socks.)

The most notable moment for me came before the game. After the layup lines were complete and the starters were announced, both teams stood on the court while a young woman came out to sing the national anthem. I joked, “We should be kneeling and shit” with a couple of the guys standing next to me, and they both chuckled and shook their heads. And then, as she grabbed the mic and made her way to the court, I thought, “You know what? Fuck it,” and I took a knee.

The impetus for me deciding to kneel was—honestly—a feeling of hypocrisy. I’ve written numerous times about professional and amateur athletes kneeling during the anthem—acts done as both a form of silent protest of police brutality and a show of solidarity for the other athletes who’ve decided to resist in this manner. And even if no one actually gave a shit about what I decided to do during this anthem before a freakin’ alumni basketball game, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.


So I took a knee. And I felt ... sore. Kneeling on one knee is not an easy thing for me to do, and the whole time I was down there I was thinking, “WILL SHE HURRY THE FUCK UP WITH THIS FERGIE-ASS FUCKING ANTHEM BECAUSE MY KNEE FEELS LIKE IT JUST ATE SOME WASABI!” (She actually did a fine job.)

I also felt vaguely confused, because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking at. The floor? The ceiling? The woman singing? My watch (if I were wearing one)? Should I be praying or something? Should my eyes be closed? And since I’m old, do I really want to close my eyes that long and chance falling asleep?


Mostly, though, I just felt like I was drawing attention to myself. I’m not sure if that’s actually true. I have no idea if anyone there even noticed me kneeling. Still, it felt like all eyes were on me. Which I guess is one of the points of the protest. Not to draw attention to yourself, but to remind people why you’re doing this.

This makes more sense if you’re in a football stadium or an arena with thousands of predominantly white fans who may be unaware of, apathetic about or in stark opposition to the reason(s) for the protest. But there was nothing but black people at this game. Out of the thousand or so people there, I’d guess that maybe 20 were white.


These were not people who needed to be reminded of police brutality, and my act just felt, well, unnecessary. Egregious, even, like I was using this moment of respite and joy for the community to remind everyone of how fucked up shit is. While it’s appropriate and brave for athletes to do this before their games, the way I felt during my protest was how I felt during the game—which was like I was pretending to be something and someone I’m not anymore.

After the anthem ended, I got up, and both teams gathered at half-court to pray. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. I actually got up 10 seconds before the anthem ended ... right when she finished singing, “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” because if I’d knelt for any longer, I wasn’t getting back up.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



“What are you protesting?”