Last Saturday night, Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er’s quarterback chose to take a seat, if you will, in protest against the oppression of black and other minority groups in American society. Kaepernick – who is biracial and was adopted and raised by white parents – outlined his position clearly stating “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour”.
He went on to further state that “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” While it is often risky for us, as outsiders, to cast judgment on American society the documented events of the last three years give weight to Kaepernick’s comments.
The problem it seems, based on the response in America is that Kaepernick had the temerity to disrespect the anthem and by some extension, the centuries-old respect for the military enshrined in ‘Old Glory’. Incidentally, the US anthem has often come in for criticism due its racist overtones, and like all anthems was a product of its time.
The national flag can mean many different things to many people. The recent 1916 commemorations here had some commentators examining the symbolism of the flag, and perhaps more importantly, how it is actually viewed by regular citizens. For some, the tricolour is sacred and a powerful national symbol and to others, who are no doubt proud to be Irish, the flag is merely a sporting banner.
Nevertheless, we are a neutral country and are not in a position to familiarise ourselves with the lengthy and complicated military history of the United States of America. The crux of the vitriol aimed at Kaepernick is that he disrespected the men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces., something he has denied with absolute clarity. There’s no questioning the bravery required to step into a battlefield, but some of the Mom’s apple-pie horseshit that’s been spewed by NFL coaches and players is difficult to fathom.
When questioned on Kaepernick’s actions, Buffalo Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan’s opined that “the opportunity that we have to play a great game is through the men and women that serve our country.” Firstly, that reads as either an incredibly simplistic or sycophantic statement and frankly does not make sense. The NFL does not, to the best of our knowledge, function as a result of American military interventions on foreign soil.
Kaepernick had every right to express an opinion and while many NFL players acknowledged this right they have reacted most negatively to his actions. The overwhelming response has been that Kaepernick disrespected members of the US military when he refused to stand and face the flag. Surely this is somewhat hypocritical? You can say whatever you want but your actions can’t peacefully reflect your views?
On a micro level, Kaepernick’s stance is most interesting as they came in the week when NFL rosters are cut to 52 and, after a year of injuries and reported personality clashes, it does not appear to be smart move from either a career or commercial perspective.
Unlike NBA players, who responded both in word and deeds to Trayvon Martin’s tragic death, NFL pros are expected to keep their views to themselves. It would be unseemly to express any view that may be deemed controversial and therefore detrimental to the juggernaut controlled by a collective of aging white men. Assuredly, there are those who wish to speak in the NFL but players are uncertain as to how this might affect their career prospects.
Kaepernick further stated that “this is not something I am going to run by anybody” and that “if they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” A sceptic could say, with considerable substance, that Kaepernick’s football is going to be taken away from him anyway because he can’t even take the starting job in San Francisco from an also-ran like Blaine Gabbert. And not because of his stance on divisive issues in a simmering American society.
Some, like former NFL safety Marvin Harrison, have asked why Kaepernick never spoke when he was on a minimum contract and a relative nobody, but surely this is missing the point. Because of past deeds on the field, the 30-year-old is a household name in the United States and a voice that is more likely to be heard, if not listened to.
Too often, those in an elevated status in society choose to neatly sidestep any potentially divisive issues but Kaepernick has chosen to step outside the protective bubble and stand for something. The point is not really whether Colin Kaepernick was right to do what he did, more the fact that he showed the willingness to do so.
Surely, the public consciousness is skewed if the flag is taken to almost exclusively represent the U.S. armed forces and not the amassed principles and rights which the United States intends to uphold.
Donald Trump had his say, unsurprisingly, suggesting that “maybe he (Kaepernick) should find a country that works better for him”. Hardly a new departure for Trump but his views are typical of the those who disagree with Kaepernick’s actions. Rather than actually look at the wider problems in society, critics have focused on what they perceive to be the Nevada native’s lack of respect for the military.
In a country where guns are easier to purchase than booze, police officers clearly face a serious threat to their safety. In cities throughout the US, members of the police force are murdered every year. However, the videos we’ve all seen clearly point to an ailing system where police brutality towards minorities clearly exists. Although not according to the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
Apparently, front office executives won’t touch Kaepernick now – though the Minnessota Vikings might have to consider him – so it seems that his personal and football reputation are now held in equally low regard. It should, of course, be mentioned that the 49ers would face unfounded criticisms if they cut Kaepernick, something they were already considering before last week for purely footballing reasons.
Some US army veterans have shown their support for Kaepernick, substantiating the view that his actions were not intended as an affront to the service men and women but as a socio-political statement.
Kaepernick’s actions may come to absolutely naught -though interestingly he was joined in protest last night by his teammate, Eric Reed, a guaranteed starter – but it is refreshing to see an individual in an elevated position in society challenge what they perceive to be social injustice. However, the subsequent reaction confirms the long-held belief that sportspeople should keep their actions to the field, their thoughts to themselves and leave the politicking to the grown-ups.