When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem during a preseason football game, it was in protest of saluting a country that still does not treat all people equally despite the words we use to pledge allegiance to it.
Here is what 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. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Sadly, so much of the response to his protest has come in the form of questioning his patriotism, his right to speak, even his race, and not to the injustices in the world, the police brutality and the unfair treatment of minorities that he is speaking out against. Lost in all of this and of great importance is the actual message he was trying to get across, which is that there is a serious racial divide in America, and if every time we try to bring it up it gets distorted like this, progress cannot be made.
Those that say what he is doing is anti-American are ignoring that he has even gone as far as to say he is not disrespecting the troops, that he has had friends and family who have fought for this country, and has even inspired a group of soldiers and former military members to support him in his cause.
Kaepernick is being criticized for exercising the very right his critics are fighting to protect. They argue that he doesn’t have the right to speak out about these issues, citing reasons ranging from being raised by white parents to being a multi-millionaire athlete. But what Kaepernick does have and what makes it so important that he is speaking, is a platform that so many of the people being affected by the injustices he is speaking about do not have.
Kaepernick is making the most high profile and long-lasting stand to-date, following the highly publicized but short-lived protests by the Los Angeles Clippers over Donald Sterling and the WNBA players’ support for “Black Lives Matter.” The problem is that because of the fluid nature of the news cycle and the “shut up and play” mentality so many people have toward athletes when they don’t agree with them on social issues, the full potential of those protests ended when the protests did.
But this time could be different. Others are following suit. Teammate Eric Reid took a knee with him before their final preseason game, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks has said he will sit as well. It is even reaching outside of football as team USA soccer star Megan Rapinoe has joined his cause along with Virginia Tech volleyball team.
Fans are listening too. More of Kaepernick’s jerseys were sold last week than in the previous eight months combined. It is now the top selling jersey on NFL.com and Kaepernick has said he is going to donate all of the proceeds from the sales back into the communities being affected. This is a much larger response than we’ve seen to the other protests by athletes. What Kaepernick is doing, with the help of a few fellow players and now fans, is keeping his message going beyond the typical news cycle. He has used his platform to get it this far, but it is everyone’s responsibility to keep it moving forward and to block the efforts of those still attempting to silence or distort his message under the guise of patriotism.
And just maybe if his critics showed the same level of outrage over police shootings and unfair treatment of people of color as they are over this protest, we might actually be able to move closer to a better world.
With liberty and justice for all.