SanFrancisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick caused a continuing controversy when he sat down during the national anthem prior to the 49ers’ game against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick explained his action by saying,
“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.”
While many acknowledge this is an issue in American society and athletes are being increasingly encouraged to speak out and take public stances on such societal issues. Kaepernick’s action touched a nerve for many. Kaepernick’s ex-teammate Alex Boone, now on the Vikings, told USA Today Sports,
“It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there…That flag obviously gives (Kaepernick) the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some (expletive) respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom. We’re out here playing a game, making millions of dollars. People are losing their life, and you don’t have the common courtesy to do that. That just drove me nuts.”
Not standing for the national anthem puts Kaepernick in a precarious position. It is a public protest which obviously has drawn attention to the issue. But at the time many see the protest as ill-placed because they believe he is showing disrespect to the United States generally (especially the U.S. military), not just to that which he does disrespect. And although Kaepernick has clarified that it “wasn’t my intention at all” to insult the military the insult is not dependent on the intention. However, for all those declaring Kaepernick to be unpatriotic, you’re anger misses the point. Especially as you oppose his method but acknowledge his right to use it.
Recently many athletes have spoken up and taken public action in protect of issues in America such as Black Lives Matter and gun violence. The difference between these actions and Kaepernick’s, however, is the method. And this is a crucial point to consider, as explained by Dorian Majied, an Army Ranger veteran who served in Iraq,
“I understand Kaepernick’s intention, however I disagree with his means. His NBA counterparts protested the same ideas in a way that neither hurt the country, nor ignored the ideals that people of color have fought and died which; ideals represented by the symbolism of the American Flag and words of the National Anthem.
“As a member of a national organization, reaping the benefits of a country that apparently oppresses people who look like him, his argument is thin on a personal level.
“Doing what Dwayne Wade and company did at a game opener to support BLM, or making a public verbal statement as Carmelo Anthony did, or even a written statement as Michael Jordan did are all more appropriate acts of protest.
“He could write his congressman, he could petition, he could picket, he could join the service and actually fight for the rights he seems to think are not offered to him; his sitting through the National Anthem was a lazy lack of will and brain power.”
To not stand his Kaepernick’s right, but his action was misplaced, Najied explained,
“To refuse to stand for the National Anthem is his right as an American, and I support that right, however I do not agree with that action.
“There are a myriad of other ways to conduct social protest for people of color, that don’t, whether by intent or otherwise, ignore the American principles that have given rise to extreme integration within a single American generation.
“My father was born without the right to vote and in one generation I’ve been blessed to lead amongst the world’s greatest fighting force.”
Majied argues that by not standing Kaepernick is disrespecting and ignoring everything in America which allows him to make such a stand,
“To disrespect the country that has afforded him the opportunities and fortunes he acquired is only made more offensive by the fact that his life is the personification of the ideals I see in the American flag and National Anthem: a biracial child, raised by white parents, and who has accomplished much despite his “oppression.” In how many more nations around the world can a story like that come to fruition?
“He made valid points, I’m not ignoring that there are still issues with race in America. However, he is ignoring the positive ideals of America that every colored person who has ever served, fought–while some died–for, by refusing to stand. Proper action is exactly that, action, not the inaction of not standing because he couldn’t think of a better way to protest.”
I’m not sure about Majied’s last point regarding sitting as inaction because Kaepernick couldn’t think of a better way to protest. Those involved in sit-ins in the 1960s might take issue with that point of view. That not to say there is a direct comparison between Kaepernick’s action and what happened in the 1960s. In fact, part of Majied’s argument appears to be that those protesters of social injustice which came before allow Kaepernick to take such a public stance on social issues. Majied’s point is that with such opportunities Kaepernick should take full advantage instead of simply sitting during the national anthem.
And that is a valid point. If Kaepernick did anything wrong it was in his method not in his protest. Kaepernick should write his member of Congress, give public speeches, wear protest clothing, whatever he can do to draw attention to an issue he obviously cares about very much. But he should also sit down during the national anthem, as he professes he will continue to do, because it is his right to do so.
The fallacy comes in believing there is a right or wrong way to affect change. So long as protest does not advocate violence, or similarly, not dissuade violence, there is no right or wrong way. There may be better ways to affect change than sitting down during the national anthem, but doing so isn’t the wrong way. The drawback to what Kaepernick did is the potential for the conversation to veer away from the social issue and towards his patriotism. Utilizing other methods of protest such as those other players mentioned by Majied may not have such a potential downside.
But there is always a downside. No method is perfect or ensured of inspiring change. Which is why people must continue trying. And in the end that is why Kaepernick’s method is justified. Because at last he’s trying.