Taking the knee (or taking a knee) is a symbolic gesture against racism whereby an individual kneels upon one knee in place of standing to attention for an anthem or other such occasion. It was originated by American football player Colin Kaepernick on September 1, 2016, in protest against the lack of attention given to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality in the United States. Kaepernick's protest led to a wider series of national anthem protests. It has since been adopted by sports players in countries around the world, including soccer in the United Kingdom, in solidarity with Kaepernick's protest against racism, and has been seen worldwide in non-sporting contexts such as the Black Lives Matter protests.
Main article: U.S. national anthem protests (2016–present)
The gesture originated in a 2016 American football game, during which Colin Kaepernick and his 49ers teammate Eric Reid chose to kneel during the playing of the US national anthem, to call attention to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality.
"After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, ... during the anthem, as a peaceful protest," said Reid. "We chose to kneel because it's a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy."
During the 2016 season, a small number of other players also took the knee before matches. Taking a knee became more frequent after then-President Trump criticized the gesture during a rally in September 2017, describing it as a disrespectful act against the United States national anthem and flag, and urging NFL team owners to sack "son of a bitch" players who performed it. In response, over a hundred NFL players took the knee in subsequent weeks, along with athletes from other sports, and spectators.
Taking the knee was used by many clubs before kick-off throughout the 2020–21 English soccer season, which was booed by some fans.
In a June 2020 radio interview, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that he saw the gesture as "a symbol of subjugation and subordination, rather than one of liberation and emancipation", adding that he was unaware whether it had a broader history and that it seemed to him to be "taken from the Game of Thrones".
In September 2020 Middlesbrough said they would stop taking the knee. In December 2020 players from Millwall and QPR said they would not take the knee, but would instead stand arm-in-arm. By February 2021 other teams had stopped taking the knee, including Brentford, while individual players from other teams such as Wilfried Zaha said they would also stop. Zaha later became the first Premier League player to stop taking the knee. Derby County stopped in March 2021.
On June 8, 2021, prior to an international friendly game between Hungary and the Republic of Ireland, the Irish players were booed by some Hungarian fans prior to kick-off for taking the knee.
The England national team took the knee before matches in 2021's UEFA European Football Championship, resulting in booing from some fans. Conservative MP Lee Anderson stated that he would not watch England games in the tournament as a direct result of this political gesture, saying he believed that "the vast majority of these fans booing last night are not racist" and thought they were "more likely to [...] not share the Marxist views of BLM". Kick It Out's chief executive Tony Burnett considered the booing an example of racism in the sport. The English Football Association later asked fans to respect the players' wishes to take the knee. England players were booed by Polish fans for kneeling against racism ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying match at National Stadium, Warsaw.
In July 2021, Conservative MP Steve Baker said the Government should start backing players taking the knee, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel had declined to condemn those who booed. Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition and leader of the Labour Party, said England's players were "right to take the knee".
Josiah Wedgwood pottered the image of a black man kneeling in shackles and depicting slavery on the emblem of the British abolitionist movement during the 18th and 19th centuries—a movement to ban slavery and ill-treatment of people.
In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr knelt in prayer with a group of equalities marchers during the Selma to Montgomery marches.