The Colin Kaepernick National Anthem Debate

Dear Readers:

I finally decided to weigh in on the maelstrom surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem at last week’s preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. This is my attempt to purge it from my system so I can cease letting myself be annoyed by the situation and attention it is being given. Before you start, I am keenly aware of the irony.

To wit:

Colin Kaepernick has every right to protest what he views as systemic injustices in any way he pleases so long as he doesn’t physically hurt anyone. However, the rest of us have the right to view him as a hypocritical douchebag and ignore his message because of the ham-handed way it was presented. Our flag and the blood spilled on its behalf impart these rights to us.

If one claims that the United States and its flag are responsible for the systemic oppression of people of color while making $19 million per year under the protection of that nation and its flag, one surrenders the right to be taken seriously. One looks like a dilettante at best and an ill-informed idiot at worst.

Prima facie, the charge is mostly untrue. Has extensive systemic oppression, racism, and inequity existed in the past? Yes. Does some of it still exist today? Yes. However, I invite Kaepernick to go play for the NFL in Uganda, Syria, Iran, or Turkey. I invite him to enjoy all the freedoms enjoyed by inhabitants of those countries. Silly me, I forgot. They don’t have professional sports teams. In fact, in some of those countries, you get your hand cut off because touching the skin of a pig is a crime. You’ll get a good workout dodging the gas shells being lobbed by the Syrian military against its rebels (and little kids). Maybe Erdogan won’t decide to put you in jail. You know, just because it’s Tuesday. Try having some real problems. We are far from perfect. But we don’t have to be remotely close to perfect to have the best system in the world.

Many pundits in both sports talk radio and politics have weighed in to express dismay at the form of the protest but supported him overall because he has “sparked a conversation” about these issues. But has he really? If you ask me, he has set any conversation about race, injustice, and oppression back significantly. Nobody is actually talking about these issues just because of his actions. They are simply talking about the implications his actions will have on the debate itself, the NFL, the 49ers, and his career. No high-minded conversation has been started because he refused to stand. If anything, he has given actual racists ammunition and validation for their views.

Moreover, was there a lack of debate and conversation on the topics of systemic oppression, racial injustice, and criminal justice inequities this year? Did I miss something? Have these topics not been at the forefront of our national discussion for about two years now, dating back to the Zimmerman trial? Have we all suddenly discovered our national voice because Colin Kaepernick decided to weigh in? Thank God we have him as our moral compass. I guess he got bored kissing his biceps and using the N word during games.

Another view that has been expressed is that one is a hypocrite if they supported Muhammad Ali’s outspoken nature but are opposed to Kaepernick’s protest. That is just intellectually lazy. Ali usually spoke out about very specific situations and had facts to back up his views. Kaepernick painted with a very broad, diluted brush in his comments. It’s easy to spout off about vague notions of oppression. I want to hear him actually discuss real issues, not narratively incorrect straw men. If you are worried about cops killing black men, for example, how about some equal indignation over the far higher rate at which black men kill each other. Failure to bring up specifics makes him no better than the worst race-baiting politicians.

In addition to the strategically ineffective nature of the protest, refusing to stand and show respect for the flag during the National Anthem is tactically counterproductive when those in uniform (and those with utmost respect for those in uniform) represent a large share of the NFL’s fan base. Kaepernick has stated that his protest was not meant to mean any disrespect for our veterans and others who have served our country. What he and others fail to grasp is that for many of these veterans, police officers, and others who have served, disrespect for one IS disrespect for the other. One cannot separate the two in the minds of many. We can debate whether demonstrations of allegiance or piety should be compulsory or encouraged. What we cannot do is expect those who have served to just turn a blind eye to disrespect of the very institutions and symbols they shed blood to protect. I think most veterans will agree that it is his right to do so, but that still doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.

Personally, I couldn’t care less what any sports figure thinks about anything. Athletes are no more an authority on world affairs than any Hollywood celebrity. I watch sports as an escape FROM precisely this sort of debate and stress. If listening to sports talk is no different than listening to political talk, I am part of the group that will tune out. My love of the Green Bay Packers unites me with many people with whom I disagree politically. It’s nice to set aside our political or personal differences for that 3 hours every Sunday and root for the same outcome. I have the rest of the week to mix it up about the really important domestic and international issues we face.

PSA: Kindly remove your hat during the Anthem.

One last thought about this mess: I have read or heard comments disparaging Kaepernick from people who have been at graduation ceremonies I also attended. These people were among the overwhelming majority (like 95% or more) who did not remove their mortarboards during the National Anthem. The only headwear that should not be removed during the Anthem is a military cover while saluting the flag. That a mortarboard is a pain in the ass to put back on is not an excuse to avoid showing respect. I see plenty of people at sporting events not remove their hats and caps, too. So let’s be a bit careful throwing stones if we live in a glass house, people.

 

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