The national anthem in our country is meant as a sign of unity. We stand together, as one nation, and honor our country. Of course in the history of the United States, we have done somethings that are less than honorable. Whether it be systematic discrimination of Asian-Americans during World War II, or the genocide-like march of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, race relations have never been something in our country worth standing for. This is how San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick feels as he has recently become the media’s, and the nation’s, latest obsession with his protest of the national anthem.
As you already know, Kaepernick chose to remain sitting during the national anthem while the rest of his team stood like normal in a preseason game against Green Bay. When asked about it during his post-game press conference, Kaepernick responded, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” The protest has drawn responses across the league as well as across the country. He also has sky rocketed up the NFL jersey sale charts, becoming the highest selling jersey since his protest began.
Many other NFL and other professional players have joined Kaepernick, who has now switched to kneeling during the anthem rather than sitting, to show support for him and his cause. NBA champion Iman Shumpert said in a rap song he recently released on karencivil.com, “you best believe I’m going to take a knee for the anthem.” Athletes from other sports have joined as well, including US Women’s National Team member Megan Rapinoe, who sparked a controversy of her own when her club team the Seattle Reign, a member of the NWSL, traveled to play the Washington Spirit. The Spirit leadership went off schedule and moved the national anthem up, so it would be played before Rapinoe left the locker room. She voiced her disappointment, but continued on with her protest into the US Women’s National Team’s friendly, becoming the first player to protest in international competition.
“I am disgusted with the way he has been treated and the fans and hatred he has received in all of this,” Rapinoe said. “We need a more substantive conversation around race relations and the way people of color are treated.” Rapinoe, who came out as gay in 2012, added that she understands the way it feels to support a country that doesn’t 100% support you. “And quite honestly, being gay, I have stood with my hand over my heart during the national anthem and felt like I haven’t had my liberties protected, so I can absolutely sympathize with that feeling.”“We are not saying we are not one the greatest countries in world, just need to accept that it is not perfect. Things are broken.”
The protest has also influenced teams to come together and show unity. On Monday Night Football, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons joined hands, circled up, and stood together following the anthem. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Saints Coach Sean Payton called him with the idea, and that the two teams quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, were given the decision on how and what to do.
“I reached out to Drew and just told him we were on board,” Ryan said. “But I think the big thing was, I mean, obviously, everybody knows what’s been going on throughout this entire year and for a long time. And people think things need to change.”
While drawing much support from athletes, management, and fans across the country, the act hasn’t gone without its criticism. People feel that by refusing to stand for the anthem, Kaepernick and his supporters are disrespecting our military and the men and women who have died fighting for our country. And yet while videos on social media of Kaepernick’s jerseys being torn to shreds and lit on fire are becoming more and more common, it doesn’t seem to faze the former first round draft pick, who has said he plans to continue his protest and donate his jersey revenue as well as $1 million dollars of his salary to organizations to help the conversation about race relations in the bay area.
Collin Kaepernick has used his position to protest something he clearly feels very strongly about, and has done so extremely effectively. Whether you feel that sitting during the anthem is disrespectful or not, it’s clear that Kaepernick is not doing this out of a lack of support for the country. He is attempting to start a conversation about a serious issue that, despite many incidents in recent years, has yet to grow in to a serious national discussion. Better than that, he is succeeding.
Its safe to say that if he just made a statement at a press conference discussing his views on the matter, it maybe would have been picked up by the sports networks and a few smaller organizations, but would have lost interest within 3 days. By his physical actions of kneeling, he has brought the issue to a much larger audience, and taken the media by storm for going on 2 months now.
Gaining the support of athletes both black and white, gay and straight, across many sports show that people agree and that there is a problem that needs to addressed. Its gone as far as some middle school and high school teams to collectively kneel in support of Kaepernick and people of color in this country. While I personally feel that sitting during the anthem is disrespectful, I still fully support Kaepernick in his protest, and applaud him, as well as the others who have joined and publicly supported him, in their courage and fight to put their beliefs above their reputation.
As someone who has never experienced the type of treatment or discrimination that the protest attempts to bring attention to, I personally feel that its not my place to say whether he has gone too far or not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions on it. I think the national anthem is a very important symbol to our country, and like our flag, is something that should not be disrespected. They both represent something much bigger than individual, a football team, and even a group of people. They represent all of the values that have helped build this country in to what is today. But with that comes the idea that if you don’t feel like this country is protecting the rights that it guaranteed to you, then why would you stand to support it?
Through the mists of the last two months, it’s easy to forget that there is actually football to played here. Which is why when Kaepernick was named starting quarterback earlier this week, it was almost weird to hear him talked about in sports related context. Now when the 49ers kicked off Sunday afternoon in Western New York, all eyes were placed firmly on number 7.
While Kaepernick seems determined to continue his fight for fair treatment, if he eventually wants to be viewed in the same light of other famous athlete activists such as Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell, he has to learn to keep to focus else where sometimes– his game.
Kaepernick must be able to effectively pivot the media attention from his protest, which now 10 weeks in has begun to stall, to his on field abilities. For this to progress any further, he must show he has the ability to stay relevant as an athlete. If not, once the media finally runs out of interest, which is beginning to happen, he becomes just distraction for the team he’s on, who will have no reason to keep him on the roster if he can’t produce.
There is a saying, “find your gift, and use it to change the world.” While Kaepernick won’t be changing the world with his football skills anytime soon, he’s used his position to bring up and start a discussion over something that no one ever wants to talk about: one of America’s faults. Now he must show he has the football talent to stay relevant and keep that discussion going.