Colin Kaepernick, Day 13: Preemption and confusion

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As the Colin Kaepernick-simultaneously-exercising-his-rights-making-a-protest-about-social-inequity-and-offending-people-by-not-standing-for-the-national-anthem saga comes upon the end of its second full week the debate/conversation has seemingly almost reached a point of equilibrium. Many of those who had previously vehemently spoke out against Kaepernick’s (not) stand have begun to maintain a stance of acceptance, if begrudgingly.

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York has pledged to donate $1 million “to the cause of improving racial and economic inequality and fostering communication and collaboration between law enforcement and the communities they serve here in the Bay Area”. Even the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association, who last week threatened to boycott their provision of security for San Francisco 49ers home games, has rescinded this threat and in a statement wrote that it “will encourage our officers to work 49ers games and other stadium events”. Furthermore, the Santa Clara police spokesperson said, “I haven’t heard of anybody refusing to work because of Kaepernick.”

Kaepernick’s initial protest of not standing for the national anthem also continues to inspire other athletes to make similar protests. Last week 49er S Eric Reid joined his teammate in kneeling during the national anthem. Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks sat. Earlier this week U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe knelt prior to her team’s match in the National Women’s Soccer League. Last night during the national anthem prior to the opening of the NFL regular season on Thursday Night Football Denver Broncos LB Brandon Marshall, a teammate of Colin Kaepernick at Nevada, knelt.

It also appears the Seattle Seahawks are planning a protest during the national anthem prior to their opening game on Sunday, en masse:

Unfortunately, arguments apparently ignorant to the meaning of Kaepernick’s and others’ actions continue. Or at least they insist on concentrating on tangential issues which obscure the actual meaning. For instance, former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend and has been making the media rounds, and of course he was asked about Colin Kaepernick. In an interview with Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends”, in what has become a common stance he granted Kaepernick’s right to his protest while disagreeing with his method. O’Neal then offered this:

“Again, my thing is, you have to enter onto the scene one way. People like Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell, they were one way their whole career. You can’t show us something and then go to another just because of certain issues. I’m aware of all the issues, but my question is, how come you didn’t do it last year? Or how come you didn’t do it when you first entered the NFL? I don’t know Colin. To each his own. It’s his constitutional right to do that, but I’d never do that.”

This statement echoes those who have previously suggested that Kaepernick took this opportunity to make his protest only because he did not think he was going to make the team, or because he didn’t want to make the team. He had nothing to lose.

First, this argument blatantly ignores almost every statement Kaepernick has made regarding why he made his initial protest as well as all subsequent actions he has taken and words he has spoken. Such as this exchange during a media session on August 28th after his protest was first noticed:

“Q: Is this something that has evolved in your mind? How has it progressed to where you make a stand like this?

KAEPERNICK: It’s something that I’ve seen, I’ve felt. Wasn’t quite sure how to deal with originally. And it is something that’s evolved. It’s something that as I’ve gained more knowledge about what’s gone on in this country in the past, what’s going on currently, these aren’t new situations.”

Second, Kaepernick had previously made visible, public statements on social media regarding his stance against social injustice and racial inequality. Regardless, the point is that a protest was made. Third, even if Kaepernick’s history of protest was lacking prior to this saga and that lack of history did somehow matter, doesn’t that history have to begin somewhere? There is no history until there is. Muhammed Ali had no history of public protest until his refusal to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War. Bill Russell’s public stance against the racism and abuse he and fellow African-American players faced at home and on the road was not visible until a few years in to his NBA career. Not only is Shaquille O’Neal therefore factually incorrect about these two athletes, he is ignoring the extreme backlash they both faced as the result of their actions. Bill Russell did not reconcile with Boston Celtics fans until 30 years after his retirement. Muhammed Ali was publicly vilified, stripped of his championship and not allowed to fight for years because of his protest.

Another reaction witnessed this past week was the preemption of the national anthem. Megan Rapinoe had vowed to continue her support of Colin Kaepernick’s protest by continuing to kneel during the national anthem prior to the rest of her team’s games this season. On Wednesday night, that plan was hijacked by the home team Washington Spirit, a team whose majority ownership consists of veterans. Prior to the game the national anthem was played to fans before players had exited the locker rooms. Here is the statement from Washington Spirit owner, Bill Lynch:

First, the Washington Spirit and any other team which takes similar action has the right to do so, just as anyone who disagrees with Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe and any other athlete who does not stand during the national anthem has a right to their opinion on that action. Second, they need to dispel themselves of the idea that the American flag is synonymous with the United States military, however. The meaning of the flag and the “Star Spangled Banner” is subjective. Third, while the statement says the Spirit respect “every individual’s right to express themselves” and “respectfully disagree” with Rapinoe’s method of expression, this action as well as the use of the word “hijacking” reveals these sentiments to not be true. The term “hijacking” carries an inherently negative connotation. And if the team did actually respect Rapinoe’s right to express herself they wouldn’t have played the national anthem before she came out of the locker room. Fourth, the statement says “to willingly allow anyone to hijack this tradition that means so much to millions of Americans and so many of our own fans for any cause would effectively be just as disrespectful as doing it ourselves”. You mean like you did, when you didn’t allow those athletes who would have wanted to stand before the flag to do so? Finally, if the Spirit didn’t want to draw further attention to Rapinoe’s protest, why change anything and release a lengthy statement to the press about what you did? It’s not a principled stand, it’s grandstanding.

If you don’t agree with Colin Kaepernick, other athletes who have taken similar actions or those who have publicly supported those actions, just say so. Don’t make up irrational and nonsensical reasons for your disagreement. You can’t simultaneously argue the right to not stand while saying it disrespects the U.S. military, especially as many veterans have come out in support of the protest and said the right to not stand is one of the very things for which they fight. And you can’t agree with the protest while disagreeing with the method. This effectively equates to, “we respect your right to change things, just do it within the existing system”.

If you really want to negate this protest, make sense and stop giving more attention to the issue.

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