Kneeling for a cause
Nobody disputes Colin Kaepernick’s right to refuse to stand for the national anthem.
Heck, it’s not even an original idea. Former Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf did the same thing 20 years ago, stating the U.S. flag was a symbol of oppression and that standing for the national anthem conflicted with his Islamic beliefs.
More recently, other professional athletes have seen fit to make statements about social justice. After the events in Ferguson, Missouri, some members of the then-St. Louis Rams entered the field with their arms up to signify, “Hands Up, don’t shoot.”
Later, NBA stars wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words “I Can’t Breathe” in response to the death of Eric Garner who died during a police encounter in New York.
So why the fuss over Kaepernick? Because he’s using the flag to make a point, which leaves him wide open to interpretation. He started his protest to call attention to police brutality and social injustice. Now he’s fending off accusations of being anti-American and belittling the sacrifices of the military.
Kaepernick seems to understand the deficiencies of his ham-handed grab for attention. Since his initial refusal to stand for the anthem, he now kneels, which offers a sense of reverence. He’s also pledged the first million of his $11.9 million salary this year to charitable organizations.
But there’s still a garish, self-indulgent aspect to his silent protest. He’s said he’ll stand when “there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, (when) this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to ...”
It’s hard not to come away with the sense that Kaepernick has appointed himself as America’s civil rights czar — the sole arbiter of equal opportunity. We’ll be OK when he says we’re OK. But perhaps we’re being overly critical because he’s a second-string QB. Other, more accomplished athletes, like Mohammed Ali and Jackie Robinson have taken similar actions in the name of social justice and history is on their side.
Kaepernick has his supporters. Several military veterans have supported his protest via social media with the hashtag “VeteransForKaepernick” saying they fought for his right to say whatever he wants. “I serve to protect your freedoms, not a song,” one veteran tweeted.
Such an affirmation for the Bill of Rights is a good thing as far as we’re concerned. President Barack Obama on Monday described Kaepernick’s protest as “messy,” but it’s “the way democracy works.”
We agree. We can argue about whether Kaepernick’s actions are effective or sincere or patriotic, but he’s got people talking and that’s probably a good thing.
He’s standing up for what he believes in, at a potentially high personal cost. There’s nothing un-American about that.