So by now you’ve heard of Colin Kaepernick, right? A few weeks ago, this San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback was not on the radar for those who don’t follow the NFL (or at least he wasn’t on my radar – my husband is rolling his eyes) . . . but on August 26 he became a household name when he refused to stand during the national anthem at a pre-season game.
His rationale? Kaepernick explained that he would not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
In a subsequent game, Kaepernick again refused to stand for the anthem, this time kneeling along with teammate Eric Reid. Following his actions, he noted that he isn’t anti-American:
“I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.”
As he anticipated prior to his actions, Kaepernick has taken some heat. A lot of heat. Provocative headlines screaming words like “treason,” “deportation,” and “he’s fired!” (by the way, he’s not fired yet – and I don’t think his citizenship was ever in question) have flooded social media. President Obama weighed in Monday on the constitutionality of his actions, and so did everyone else – with the majority of the articles I saw crucifying him for his intentionally inflammatory choice of expression. Offended friends and contacts (many of whom have active service members in their families) have flooded my news feed with angry articles and posts, appalled at his disrespect.
I value my friends and deeply esteem the American flag and all that it represents. I think we can all agree in the abstract that failing to stand at attention for the national anthem is impertinent and disrespectful — but I want to pause here and ask in this specific situation: are we putting form over function?
Let’s take a deeper dive.
Kaepernick is biracial and was adopted into a home with two white parents. To my knowledge, he has not claimed to be victimized by racial oppression or blatantly ungrateful for his current position. To the contrary, he was pretty clear in interviews that his actions were inspired by a need to stand up for others lacking a voice:
“I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
So then, by his admission, he was not sitting out the anthem and taking a knee for his own cause so much as for the cause of others. . . people lacking a platform but not a perspective. People who very much feel oppressed by the mainstream and gypped by the promise of equality and “justice for all”. And, lest it seem that his actions were a baseless stunt, the silent minority has responded. Kaepernick’s jersey is currently the top seller among NFL jerseys. A sea of minority faces waited after his last pre-season game for his autograph and picture. Kaepernick’s actions are speaking to . . . and for . . . many, perhaps many who will never have the opportunity to be heard.
So let’s circle back. Is Kaepernick’s decision to sit-out or kneel-out the national anthem disrespectful? It depends on how you look at it. On it’s face, maybe. But let’s remember: Kaepernick has not used his actions as a microphone to say, “I hate America,” “I don’t believe in freedom,” or “I disrespect the people who died for this country.” Instead, to anyone listening, he seems to be sticking his neck out to say, on behalf of others, that America is not living up to her own standards. Could his peaceful demonstration of support for downtrodden Americans be construed as more respectful of the ideals our country represents than a passive decision to stand at attention for the flag each week?
Obviously, it’s a heated issue . . . but one that I think deserves more conversation than simply writing him off as a “traitor” or lumping him in with the disrespectful teens at your local football game who gossip through the anthem. Remember, our country is essentially founded on protests, and many of the people we consider heroes today were not the public darlings of their time.
I’d love to know your thoughtful opinion. As you consider it, check out this blog post shared by an Asian American woman about what it feels like to want someone to stand up for you as a minority and see if it impacts your view at all.
Thanks for your thoughts!