We are a nation that enjoys feeling outraged, and our newest target is San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick. The backup quarterback, the son of a single mother who was forced to give him up for adoption, has earned our collective fury for sitting during the National Anthem played before the game. He has been accused of being anti-American and an attention-seeker. Even more radicals have accused him of converting to Islam, which is at best misinformed and at worst a malicious lie intended to damage Kaepernick’s reputation. In truth, Kaepernick is a patriot, and not even a groundbreaking one.
Kaepernick has made the reasons behind his decision to remain seated very clear. In a post-game interview with NFL Media, he 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.” He has articulated the thoughts of many in this nation who have seen the senseless murders of black men like Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Walter Scott by police.
Many people argue that Kaepernick’s stance is insincere; how can a football player with an average annual salary of $19 million talk about racial issues? As Sean Hannity of Fox News said, “He [Kaepernick], in his own life, has suffered no oppression. He’s free to share all the money he wants.” Tucker Carlson likewise called for people to “laugh in the face” of “overpaid entertainers” who play the victim. But Kaepernick never stated he was a victim of police violence, and one doesn’t need to experience an injustice first-hand to have an opinion on it.
The tens of thousands of white people who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. never experienced racism. Countless numbers of straight people who support LGBTQA rights have never experienced homophobia or trans-phobia. Does that make their support any more disingenuous? Of course not. If one’s wealth truly prevents them from making statements on current issues, someone should tell the followers of the billionaire running for president.
Others say sports are no place to express one’s political views. “Stick to sports,” they say. Yet sports have often been at the forefront of social issues. Baseball was desegregated with the debut of Jackie Robinson before the military or public schools. Muhammad Ali often used his fame to promote civil rights, and got barred from boxing for his outspokenness. And what of the famous picture from the 1968 Olympics, showing two African-American medal-winners raising their fists in support of civil rights? Athletes shouldn’t have to be apolitical because some sports fans don’t want to be burdened with the complicated topic of social issues.
Furthermore (and this is purely speculation) but I believe many of the people currently burning Kaepernick jerseys and calling for his ejection from the sport probably supported Tim Tebow and his public displays of personal beliefs.
Most of Kaepernick’s colleagues have supported his message, if not his methods. Former 49er’s Jerry Rice said on Twitter, “Colin, I respect your stance but don’t disrespect the Flag.” Hall of Famer Jim Brown from the Cleveland Browns said, “I am with him [Colin] 100 percent…Now if you ask me ‘Would I do that?’ No I won’t.” But perhaps the most laughable reaction came from NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who said, “I’m sorry but @Kaepernick7 needs to learn the fact about police before running his dumbass mouth!” Besides being unnecessarily disrespectful, it is interesting that Stewart, a white man, decided to attack Kaepernick on his knowledge of social issues facing the black community. A brief perusal of Kaepernick’s twitter page shows several articles concerning race issues in the U.S. Stewart’s, on the other hand, shows nothing related to the topic before Kaepernick’s protest.
One of Kaepernick’s strongest supporters from the sports world has been former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “We should admire those who risk personal gain in the service of promoting the values of their country,” he said, referring to Kaepernick’s possible loss of endorsements and in salary. “What’s really un-American here,” he said, was that Kaepernick was still protesting the same issues that Jabber, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown faced in the 60’s.
At the end of the day, Kaepernick is exercising one of the U.S.’s most enshrined rights: freedom of speech. No matter your stance on Kaepernick’s message or means of protest, he is fully in his rights to do so. People who tell Kaepernick to “find a different country” because of his beliefs perhaps need a refresher course on the Bill of Rights.