At the start of this year, if you had told me that Colin Kaepernick would be relevant again by the end of August, I would have figured that the man had gotten his mojo back and won a starting job in San Francisco. Mostly an NFL afterthought/has-been over the course of the past year or so, Kaepernick is not only relevant again, he has just become the most important athlete in the world.
In case you haven’t heard about the incident yet and were just wondering why in the world I would say such a thing about Colin Kaepernick, here’s a cliff notes version.
Last Saturday, before a home preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, the NFL was having their traditional national anthem festivities. Big flag unveiled on the field, military personnel, the whole 9 yards that they do before every game – the organization actually collects checks from the U.S. Army to do such things. Everyone rose to honor the stars and stripes, except one man.
Kaepernick purposefully chose to stay seated on the bench.
In all my years of attending live sporting events, never have I ever seen a player not stand for the national anthem. It’s just not something that you would normally think to do. Protests are usually reserved for wearing a symbolic shirt during warm-ups – like the LA Clippers did last year – making a symbolic gesture – like the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture that 5 Rams players made when making their entrance from the tunnel last year – or posting something on social media – like everyone does.
By not standing for the national anthem, Kaepernick has taken an often protested topic, and thrust it directly into the spotlight in a not subtle way. And that, right there, is why this is so important.
Everyone is talking about this. From local sports outlets and podcasts to CNN, Kaepernick’s actions have incited widespread opinion and attention from literally anywhere you can think of. If you are an American, and you have seen what he did, you have an opinion on it. Finally, the issues that this country so desperately needs to address are thrust into the limelight in a way that doesn’t involve violence.
There are so many sides and questions about Kaepernick’s protest, though, and I’m just going to try and knock them all out one by one.
First off, the fact that Colin Kaepernick is, well, Colin Kaepernick plays a vital role in this. While people are talking about Kaep’s protest, most of everything I’ve heard has been extremely negative – Saturday on Twitter was possibly one of the most depressing Twitter days ever. But, ask yourself this, if Aaron Rodgers had made this same protest, would we be viewing it in a more positive light? Or at least attempting to sympathize with him more?
Kaepernick’s likability and relevance play a role here. The fact that he is all but certainly on his way out of the NFL has led anonymous GM’s to comment things such as, “I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my team. He’s a traitor.” And the fact that when Kaepernick was relevant he alienated himself and was often perceived as a selfish diva doesn’t help either.
When irrelevant people do relevant things, those relevant things become somewhat squandered and crushed under the weight of irrelevancy. Instead of lauding Kaepernick’s bravery or even remotely attempting to sympathize with his cause, we look at his stupidity, disrespect and view him as a “traitor.”
If LeBron intentionally sat for the national anthem, millions would be lauding him, publicly praising his courage, calling him a hero, all that jazz. But, LeBron didn’t sit for the anthem, and he never will.
But Colin Kaepernick did, and I’m going to put my neck out on the line here by saying that his protest was courageous and needs to be sympathized with.
In a brilliant piece posted on the MMQB, Robert Klemko looked at Kaepernick’s upbringing to go inside the reasoning of how this protest came about. To summarize, Colin was raised by two white parents in a very white area of Northern California; but he was not raised to believe he was white. The Kaepernicks raised their son as a black man, and as a black man in America, Colin Kaepernick has faced all of the injustices that are simply ingrained in our society and glossed over as non-issues.
He’s had enough, and we should all feel the same. Pay attention to Colin Kaepernick’s protest and take a stand of your own. If you simply dismiss it as just another black man crying out for special treatment, you are contributing to the problem we need to solve.
I have never not stood up for the national anthem, and I believe that when times are hardest, the national anthem simply needs to be sung louder and prouder than before. Not to drown out the problems and pretend they aren’t there, but to yell in the face of the error and show that we are stronger and will not back down.
I also believe in the principles that the American flag stands for, and will always respect those principles in any way that I can. But, at the same time, as a straight white male, I haven’t had to face a lick of oppression in my entire life. It might as well be nonexistent to me. So I have no reason to believe that America isn’t perfect the way it is right now.
Colin Kaepernick – along with any black, LGBT person, or woman – does, and Kaepernick stands up for all of them by not standing. He stands up for all of them by not blindly accepting a perfect America, because America isn’t perfect, and everyone needs to recognize that and work together to solve that problem.
This is true activism, taking a huge risk for a cause you believe in; something Kaepernick touched on when he told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, “I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I took up for what is right.”
You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick, most people don’t, but you must sympathize with him. Everyone has a cause they believe in, a cause that many people disagree with, a cause that they would potentially put themselves out on the line for. Kaepernick is a black man in America who has seen enough violence and heard enough politicians undermining minorities as helpless that he felt strongly enough to protest in such a way that he knew would get the country’s attention.
And, the beauty of his protest was exactly what it was. Kaepernick staying seated during the national anthem hurts literally nobody; not a single person was harmed by what he did. Yet everyone is talking about it and everyone is addressing the issue at hand. That is beautiful, and that is vital.
Too often, protests are either too simple, or too violent to actually accomplish any good. Kaepernick fought back against both of those preconceived notions, and in doing so, has people talking. Is his career on the line? Yes. Is his life potentially on the line? From what I’ve seen on Twitter, yes. But that’s what it takes to get a point across in today’s day and age, and Kaepernick deserves to be applauded for his courage.
The last thing I want to bring up is a point that my dad made while we were talking over dinner the other night. He felt that Kaepernick’s protest not only disrespected the American flag, but also all of the people who had put him in such a position of power to be able to have his protest reach so many people. He disagreed with the protest because he believed it was an abuse of power to get out an opinion.
To me, Kaepernick’s stature makes this protest all the more effective. As I mentioned earlier, maybe you’ve seen the guy next to you in the stands or some other guy in the stands not stand for the national anthem, but you probably haven’t thought anything of it other than, “wow, what an idiot.” The fact that this is Colin Kaepernick making this statement, he of significant fame for being an NFL quarterback of one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, puts this in the rarified air of protests.
This is a legitimately large figure taking an authentic stand and literally putting everything on the line; something we haven’t seen since the days when Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown would hold press conferences to address social injustices. As I mentioned earlier, no figure with any legitimate stature has really been willing to put their neck out on the line to address America’s inherent ‘ism’ and ‘phobia’ problem – racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.
This protest, however seemingly small in stature it may be, is a pivotal turning point for our current America. We can either brush it off as just another black guy crying foul, or we can seriously address it and make some change. We’ve had plenty of other opportunities, but will this finally be the one?
In a presidential election that is as racially charged as any in the history of ever – and that includes 2 with a black guy running for president, mind you – all candidates will be asked about this. NFL players will be asked about this; from Cam Newton to Bill Belichick, and front office executives too. This issue expands far beyond just an ‘on his way out the door’ NFL quarterback deciding not to stand for the national anthem and extends into the very fabric that our society is currently made up from.
These issues can’t be ignored any longer, so let this be a turning point and not just another empty protest falling on deaf ears. This isn’t a black or white issue, and it isn’t just an NFL issue, it’s a people issue.
Let it be your issue too.
Thanks for reading.