Only in a country overly lauded for pride in its freedoms can a young man make a peaceful statement about an undebatable injustice during a sports game and be condemned by millions.
Here are the simple facts.
Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the 49ers, has been sitting out the national anthem during games. A picture of him kneeling during the national anthem in a preseason game on August 26th made headlines and sparked a national conversation. Kaepernick was quick to make clear the reasoning behind his actions. After the game, in an interview with NFL.com Kaepernick said,
“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. “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.”
Kaepernick has something to say about the 706 people, largely men of color, who have been killed by police in 2016. He has an opinion, understandably, and has decided to use the spotlight his job affords him to let his opinion be known, also understandable.
This outraged people everywhere – not because young black men are being brutalized and murdered by police officers in cities across the country. They were outraged because they feel that Kaepernick disrespected their flag, or their sport, or their city, or the military, or some other nonsensical scapegoat issue that sidesteps the actual reason for his protest. This phony outrage monster has crawled into the minds of millions.
San Franciscans immediately took to burning their Kaepernick jerseys. Actor James Woods has boycotted the NFL over Kaepernick’s so-called “disrespect” toward our nation’s flag. Model Kate Upton, has called the actions of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem “disgraceful.” Countless other fans, celebrities, journalists, and fellow NFL players have been singing the same tired song that all people too emotionally incapable or ignorant to engage in grown up conversation sing: “If you don’t like this country, leave. If you don’t like this country, leave. If you don’t like this country, leave.”
Regardless of how much the anthem gives you good feelings in your tummy, it has never been and never will be required to stand for the anthem in this country. That is what freedom means. You have the choice. If more people, young men especially, executed their choices with the same care and precision as Kaepernick, this nation would be better off. But instead, we have become reactionary and senseless. We are overeager to jam our emotions into the faces of others without a moment of consideration and self-reflection. This is the poisonous and childish rhetoric we have allowed to trump our national conversation – pun intended.
During his preseason game against the Chargers, Kaepernick again took a knee during the national anthem. He was then booed by Charger fans on all 34 plays he took part in, despite having stood to applaud and show support for the 240 members of the military being honored on the field just before the anthem.
The phony outrage monster grows. If only a collection of people as passionate as NFL fans are about their leisure activities could direct that passion toward something deserving of their outrage, imagine what could be accomplished.
Since the 2016 Super Bowl, more than a dozen professional football players have been arrested. Charges range from drunk driving and drug possession to reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, resisting arrest, domestic assault, and battery, with at least one player having to be subdued by officers with a Taser. None of them were booed on national television.
A few days after Kaepernick was booed by an entire stadium, on September 5th, another 49er player, Bruce Miller, drunkenly stumbled into a San Francisco hotel and assaulted a 70-year old man. He has since been released from the team. No one burned his Jersey. No one told him to leave the country.
Alcohol inspired elder assault is American enough to not inspire outrage, but opting out of the national anthem is treason in the eyes of many.
Any football fans who have boycotted the team or the NFL as a result of Kaepernick’s actions, but are unconcerned about the rampant felonious proclivities of other NFL players, have made their values known. If you burn a jersey in response to a man’s peaceful protest, but then remain silent about another’s drunken rampage on your city, your principles are broken.
Figure out what you really care about before you insert yourself into such an important conversation.
Fact: We have a problem with police brutality in this country. If violent protest is answered with more organized, systematic violence and peaceful protest is met with violence and condemnation, what do we have left? Silence?
Silence is not an option. Change is necessary and change is noisy.
Kaepernick’s movement continues, and many other professional athletes have joined him. Many concerned Americans have joined him. We join him.