During a preliminary Miss America competition on Thursday, Miss Virginia Emili McPhail wasn’t afraid to take a strong stance when faced with a politically sensitive question.
When asked what advice she would give to NFL players contemplating whether they should stand or kneel during the National Anthem, McPhail, 22, replied that players have a right to make whatever decision they felt most comfortable with.
“Kneeling during the national anthem is absolutely a right that you have, to stand up for what you believe in, and to make the right decision that’s right for you,” she said, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
“But it’s also not about kneeling; it is absolutely about police brutality,” she added, according to the Associated Press.
McPhail went on to win the interview portion of the competition, as well as a $1,000 scholarship prize.
Following the competition, McPhail told reporters that while everyone is “entitled to your own opinion” about the polarizing protest movement, she felt proud to have “stood up for what I believed was right,” according to the Associated Press.
“I said standing up for what you believe in is the most important thing that you can do, and that’s what I did,” McPhail continued, according to the Press of Atlantic City. “I was very happy to have that moment, to be honest, because it’s not always easy.”
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The ad features a black-and-white closeup of Kaepernick’s face with the superimposed words, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The former San Francisco 49ers player sparked the #TakeAKnee movement in August 2016, when he opted to remain seated for the national anthem in an effort to raise awareness about systemic racism and police brutality.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
While support swelled for the athlete, so did the backlash. In March 2017, he opted out of his contract with the 49ers. The quarterback hasn’t been hired by another team since.
The official Miss America pageant airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.