Colin Kaepernick, in Good Company
During an August, 26, 2016, preseason football game, San Francisco 49’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick did the unthinkable. In order to lodge a personal protest against racial injustice and police brutality, he remained seated during the playing of our national anthem. Of course he had done so in two previous preseason games but because he was not in uniform, no one noticed.
Nevertheless, reaction was swift and brutal. Kaepernick was labeled an unpatriotic, attention grabbing malcontent who should just shut the hell up and play football. Former football player and coach Mike Ditka, opined, I think it’s a problem, anyone who disrespects this country and the flag. If they don’t like the country, they don’t like our flag, get the hell out. That’s what I think. http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/09/colin-kaepernick-mike-ditka-get-hell-out-national-anthem-protests.
Coach Ditka is certainly entitled to his opinion. However, to remain seated during the national anthem without more, in not disrespectful. Nor does it demonstrate hatred of one’s country.
In fact, Kaepernick did nothing wrong. He was neither rude, disruptive or obscene, solicited no one to his cause and encouraged no rebellion. He simply communicated his disapproval of the current state of affairs in a tactful and respectful manner, an act fully protected by the Constitution.
Other professional athletes soon joined the fray, including teammate Eric Reid, Seattle Seahawks corner back Jeremy Lane and soccer star Megan Rapinoe. In support of Kaepernick, an entire WNBA professional female basketball team kneeled in protest during the anthem. http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nba/every-player-on-wnba-team-kneels-in-protest-of-national-anthem/ar-BbwsNXV?OCID=ansmsnnews11.
Ironically enough, Kaepernick’s football jersey has become the NFL’s top seller. http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/06/news/companies/colin-kaepernick-jersey-nfl/index.html. And he was recently featured on the cover of October 3, 2016 edition of Time Magazine.
Regrettably, like far too many social/political disputes, the Kaepernick kerfuffle has become yet another racial flash point, especially given the latest encounters between young black males and the police in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Seattle Mariners baseball team recently suspended backup catcher Steve Clevenger for the remainder of the season without pay after tweeting that protestors in Charlotte should be locked up like animals.
And as one columnist noted, what the Kaepernick controversy lacks is a white male athlete. Long before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, Tom Brady swore a pledge. In part the pledge reads, I will speak up whenever I know discrimination is happening and I will stand up for victims.
But Brady, who took the pledge last year while participating in a Public Service Announcement targeting racism, has offered no public comment on the Kaepernick affair. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/josh-peter/2016/09/23/colin- kaepernick-national-anthem-protest-san-francisco-49ers-nfl-tom-brady/90918506/. Nor has Brandy honored the pledge in any other known capacity.
Nonetheless, Kaepernick stands in good company, even if not supported by his contemporaries. History is replete with brave men and women who stood in opposition to injustice; our founding fathers and the American colonists who contested British oppression, the slaves and abolitionists who protested racial bondage, the Civil Rights warriors who fought for equal rights and the Vietnam era protesters who opposed the war in Southeast Asia.
Nor is Kaepernick the only professional athlete to take a stand. In 1972, baseball great Jackie Robinson wrote in his autobiography, I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I have never made it. During the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in honor the Civil Rights Movement, African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fist during the national anthem. http://thedailycougar.com/2016/09/20/protesting-proud-part-history/. And Mohammed Ali was called a draft dodger, coward and racist for his political stance during the Vietnam era.
We question no one’s love of country and the issue has nothing to do with color, though some would argue otherwise. But perhaps the Kaepernick critics should be reminded that absent the first protest movement, i.e., the Revolutionary War, we would still be an English colony. And but for another significant social and political protest, the Civil War, ours would be a fractured nation.
The Vietnam protest was rife with creative displays of the flag, all of which were deemed constitutionally protected, including but not limited to wearing it on our collective posteriori. We survived these political expressions and will no doubt survive this one.
At the very least, Kaepernick has raised important questions about patriotism, love of country and the responsibilities of citizenship. What precisely is true patriotism and is love of country absolute? How does one balance patriotism with the moral obligation to acknowledge and correct historic wrongs and social injustice?
A friend recently posed an interesting moral quandary. If you were a citizen of Nazi Germany would you hide a Jew from the Nazi’s?
We believe that true patriotism is not country, right or wrong. Rather, patriotism imposes upon us a continuing duty to improve, evolve and realize our better nature, to always strive for a more perfect union and to make real the promise of America, even if it means pointing out our faults.
We admit to being an early Kaepernick critic. We initially considered his conduct to be a cheap stunt and simply could not understand how anyone could risk so much for so little. We now realize how wrong we were.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum