Colin Kaepernick may have just become the most despised person in America. And he’s cool with it.
During the traditional playing of the national anthem before the kickoff of the Packers/49er’s pre-season game, rather than stand with every other person on the field and in the stadium, the 49ers’ quarterback chose to sit, in protest of the state of American affairs today.
And despite the backlash, Kaepernick will continue to use the most watched televised event of the week – an NFL football game – to spread his message:
I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.
There are two types of people up-in-arms over Kaepernick’s refusal to stand:
- Those who believe a football player has one job: Football.
- Those who believe Kaepernick is un-American for not standing during the anthem.
Kaepernick is not just a football player. Like it or not, athletes are role models and public figures. They’ve always had a tremendous platform to share a message.
For decades, a minority of athletes have used their platform to speak about race. Over 40 years ago, in 1973, UCLA basketball star Bill Walton said, “If a black man drove by and gunned me down right now, I’d figure it was all right because of what whites have done to blacks.”
Aware of the possible collateral damage, Kaepernick chose send a very public, very political message. But attacking Kaepernick, the person — saying he’s a washed up quarterback, he’s a Muslim, he’s just rich and entitled — is showing an inability to think cognitively beyond your feelings about him.
Why did Kaepernick do what he did? This wasn’t a knee-jerk protest. Quite the opposite. It was a decision that “evolved.” It was a decision that meant so much to him that, prior to the game, he met with his team.
And after the game, Kaepernick spoke to the media at length, articulating some of the reasons for his sit-down:
Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.
I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.
You have Hillary [Clinton], who has called black teens or black kids super predators. You have Donald Trump, who is openly racist. We have a presidential candidate (Clinton) who has deleted emails and done things illegally and is a presidential candidate. That doesn’t make sense to me. If that was any other person, you’d be in prison. So what is this country really standing for?
A person who executes a planned protest, has a clear message, and is prepared for the backlash is the most admirable protester, regardless of the message.
Kaepernick’s act says, “I am not going to stand for hypocrisy.” His message asks us, “What are you standing for?”
What is America to you? Veterans are dying at war. The ones who survive, come home only to die waiting for proper health care. Or they commit suicide — 22 veterans per day, to be exact; suffer from PTSD — 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, to be exact; or end up homeless because they can’t find or can’t keep a job.
But what do professional sports leagues and teams do for our veterans? They charge us, the American taxpayer, for the appearance that they care with fighter jet fly overs. According to reporter Byron Harris, in 2010, the Air Force performed flyovers for 275 sporting events at $109,000 a pop. Between 2011-2014, the Defense Department paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million for events. The NFL profits off of the military. How is that patriotism?
Race relations continue to fall apart. Just last month, in July of 2016, a Washington Post-ABC poll found that 63 percent believe race relations are generally bad, up from 48 percent in a Pew Research survey a few months prior. Fifty-five percent believe race relations are getting worse.
Just as it is easy to blame Kaepernick, it is easy to blame “black on black” crime. Certainly, that is an issue. And so is the killing of police officers. Just as is the killing of any person at the hands of a police officer. It is easy to place blame or justify any act of violence. It is easy to blame Black Lives Matter. Many even blame President Obama.
The Blame Game isn’t working, friends. If we all believed killing was wrong, these incidents wouldn’t occur in the first place. If we worked through our problems with each other, fewer people would be playing G-d by putting someone 6 feet under.
Kaepernick’s protest certainly doesn’t feel good to anyone. He certainly didn’t feel good about it. But his act wasn’t about his feelings or your feelings. His act was about provoking the conversations we need to have in America about glaring inequities and hypocrisies.
Just like wearing a wedding band doesn’t make you a good husband or wife, standing for the national anthem isn’t what makes you a good American. Instead, a true American listens to, loves, and helps our fellow Americans.