For the past few days, I’ve been watching reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to remain seated during the National Anthem.
Almost overnight, a 28-year-old quarterback most people probably never heard of has become one the sports world’s most controversial characters.
And that takes some doing.
The quarterback in question, of course, is Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.
He gained his instant fame (or notoriety, depending on your point of view), at the start of a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday by refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem.
Many of his critics weren’t particularly interested in the reason he chose to take a stand by not standing.
Some of his critics were even more angry when they learned what the reason was:
During a post-game interview he was asked why he sat down and stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
When I first heard of this controversy du jour, I immediately had mixed reactions.
You see, I belong to that old school of decorum and respect that dictates one stand during our country’s anthem. It’s a show of respect to those who have fought and died for our freedom. That part of me insists there are plenty of ways one can protest something, and like burning the American flag, this particular one just isn’t appropriate.
Generally speaking, from what I’ve seen time after time either tactic is employed, people don’t really listen to what you have to say: the outrage of the action drowns out any message you might be trying to make, good or bad.
So to me, that kind of protest just doesn’t accomplish what the person who employs it thinks it does.
But then a funny thing happened.
I started reading social media comments from others about the controversy, and I began to change my mind a bit.
Some have called Kaepernick un-American. Well, he was exercising his First Amendment right of free speech when he made the statement. While it may be viewed as “un-American” because it seems to oppose an American symbol, it’s simultaneously a statement utilizing one of America’s most valued freedoms.
I’m not sure how that can be viewed as “un-American.”
Some have accused Kaepernick of being hypocritical because he makes a huge salary because of the success he has found in this country he seems to hate so much. I have to wonder how much of that might be jealousy on the part of those who don’t have the athleticism to earn an NFL salary themselves.
Since when, after all, does one’s salary have anything to do with how valid a point they may be making about a problem they feel is important enough to bring to the forefront? If he made $30,000 a year, would he suddenly be listened to? While I haven’t seen an NFL contract before, I’d be surprised if there’s a paragraph in there that states something along the lines of, “For what you make, you’re expected to conform to any patriotic displays and not rock the boat.”
I’d be very surprised.
Some have suggested he should give up that big salary or donate all of it to his “cause.” Think about that for a second: what would your reaction be if someone told you that you should become an indentured servant to your job, working for free so that your salary could go to support whatever cause you’re passionate about.
What’s the first thing you’d say to someone who made that suggestion to you? I bet it wouldn’t necessarily be a “family-friendly” response.
What business is it of yours or anyone else how much of your salary you donate to anything? Maybe Kaepernick is already donating a portion of his salary to causes he’s passionate about. Maybe he’s been doing it anonymously. We don’t know that he is, but we also don’t know that he isn’t. And we also don’t know what he may well do in the future.
But the point here is that one person can’t do the work by himself.
But then I question the real issue here.
If Kaepernick’s motive for sitting out the national anthem had been, for example, to protest the treatment of this country’s veterans, how would the fallout have been? After all, at that point, he would have been fighting for the very people whose sacrifices have made possible his chance to speak out. I can easily imagine a very different reaction.
Sure, there’d still be plenty of people angry because of a perceived “disrespct” of the country, but there’d also be a wider acceptance of Kaepernick’s motives, I think, because people seem to generally care about the way veterans are treated, even if they don’t have to deal with veterans personally. To put it another way, it’s still considered chic to care about our nation’s veterans, even if most of us sit back and do nothing to pressure our lawmakers to do more to make sure those who’ve served our nation are well taken care of.
What if he had made a statement about the number of unwanted dogs and cats who are being euthanized every month because there aren’t enough homes — and never will be enough. Everyone loves puppies and kittens, right? How much backlash would there have been if that was the point of his protest? Somehow, I don’t think the result would have been the same.
But Kaepernick’s message wasn’t about veterans and it wasn’t about homeless animals.
It was about racial injustices others have long been talking about in the legal system. Like the angry Southerners who were critical of the media during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s to the point of sometimes threatening their lives, it’s more about the message than the messenger.
And the messenger now as then is attempting to deliver a message some just don’t want to hear.
If this athlete is able to use his position to bring attention to an injustice, how is that un-American?
Are there better ways for him to do so? You can debate that all you like, but it’s hardly worth debating.
He decided to lend his voice to a cause he feels is important, and because so many are talking about it, even as many of them vilify him for the effort, he definitely created buzz about the cause.
Like him or hate him, it certainly appears he accomplished what he set out to accomplish.