On Thursday night -- one more time -- he didn’t stand.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick actually knelt as the “Star-Spangled Banner” reverberated through the San Diego Chargers’ Qualcomm Stadium.
This was not new for Kaepernick, who has said he will not stand until “there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
But this was not, either, an ordinary night in San Diego: the Chargers were – for the 28th year in a row – paying tribute to the hundreds of thousands of military personnel, active duty and retired, who live in the San Diego area. The national anthem was performed by a U.S. Navy petty officer, while more than 200 other U.S. Navy sailors, marines, and soldiers displayed an American flag. Several wounded warriors were also in attendance as special guests.
Both Kaepernick, and those who oppose him, must move past the controversy, past the unending bickering on whether we agree or don’t agree with his actions, and work to address the real problem at the heart of it.
The evening air, to say the least, was tense.
As we already know, Kaepernick’s protests have drawn the ire and praise of many. Most famously, NBA hall of famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned an op-ed comparing Kaepernick’s unwillingness to stand for the national anthem to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to join the Vietnam War draft in the 1960s. In the end Abdul-Jabbar concluded that Kaepernick and Ali’s actions, though different in form and eras, are truly American since both men put at risk personal gain to express their convictions on issues which they felt were still unresolved.
“What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to refuse to stand during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance... we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar.
While many of us wouldn’t protest the way Kaepernick is doing it, we can all agree he has the freedom to do so.
Yet, both Kaepernick and those who oppose him must move past the controversy, past the unending bickering on whether we agree or don’t agree with his actions, and work to address the real problem at the heart of it. We must take ACTION.
The racial divide in this country is clearly getting worse, not better. We need not look farther than the racial disparities in incarceration. According to the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate” of white Americans, and though five times as many white Americans consume drugs as African Americans, “African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate” of white Americans.
Saying that there isn’t inequality in the administration of justice between races in America is flying in the face of the evidence. It’s absurd, along with the belief that extreme examples of police brutality reflect the attitude of the majority of police in this country - an unfortunate sentiment expressed by the socks Kaepernick wore earlier in the year. Police officers put their lives on the line for us everyday and for that we should be grateful.
There are real issues to be addressed, and they are not resolved by talking, or in Kaepernick’s case, kneeling. Kaepernick has a right to protest, in his own way, his frustration with the current state of America’s justice system, but the change he desires will never occur if all he does is sit.
Differences have to be laid aside, grudges have to be released, and forgiveness has to be both offered and accepted. Expressing frustration or dissatisfaction might be the first step, but the chasm between black and white Americans is not going to be closed by protest alone; it will only be bridged once both sides begin working, each completing his or her side of the bridge, toward a middle point.
As a black American, a former NFL player, the son and father of police officers, and a pastor, I wholeheartedly believe America can indeed find racial reconciliation. But it’ll only happen once we begin to actually stand for it.
Miles McPherson is a former professional football player and the Pastor of The Rock Church, one of the largest churches in America. He ministers to a number of America’s best known professional athletes. @MilesMcpherson