San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did something that went mostly unnoticed before their most recent preseason football game. He refused to stand for the National Anthem. While the rest of his teammates and coaches stood to honor America, he stayed on the bench in protest. Asked why he would not even stand, Kaepernick offered a rather controversial explanation.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL.com after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The former All-Pro did not inform anyone with the team of what he was going to do. “This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
The 49ers issued a statement to Pro Football Talk: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
When I read this story, five reactions came over me.
1. Immediate disgust
My dad fought in WWII. His dad fought in WWI. They fought for the flag Mr. Kaepernick is dissing. They fought to give him more freedom than he could possibly find in any other country. It seems any man who is making $12 million a year playing football (after a lousy season) is the wrong messenger to talk about oppression. My immediate thought was, “Go play in the Canadian Football League – for a tenth of what the NFL pays you.” I thought, “It really takes guts to criticize the nation that affords you the opportunities you have – which you would not have anywhere else, that protects you with their military and brings you fame and fortune.” And I thought, “If America’s flag is not worth saluting, find one that is, and move there. I’ll help load your moving van.”
I feel sorry for a man who has so much but sees so little. There is no country on earth that would be better for Kaepernick to live in – or he’d already be there. But he doesn’t criticize the genocide, murder, and persecution around the world. He only criticizes the one country that gave him the opportunities he has. I pity a man like that. It must be sad to see so little.
Kaepernick’s shot at the police was clear. “They get paid leave and get away with murder.” I won’t take the space to give the data again, because closed minded individuals don’t care about the facts. But the summation is this: far more cops are shot than do the shooting. As soon as Mr. Kaepernick speaks out against the 425 black-on-black shootings in Chicago so far in 2016, his condemnation of cops everywhere will become more tolerable. He appears to fall in line with the “Black Lives Matter Only If They Are Shot By White Cops, But Black Lives Don’t Matter If They Are Shot By Other Blacks” crowd. Did I say this is frustrating?
As maddening as it is to see a man take millions of dollars for throwing a ball in the air, in the only country in the history of the world where that would be possible, and then disrespect that country (though he wouldn’t live anywhere else), I also know I can’t understand what it is like to be black. I have no doubt that Colin has seen some things, felt some things, and experienced some things I have never had to endure. Does that make his protest right? No, but it makes it understandable.
I am grateful that I live in a country that gives her citizens the right to condemn her, while at that very moment this country is protecting them from those who would destroy our way of life. Free speech came at a high price. I am grateful that Mr. Kaepernick lives in a land where his greatest risk is a defensive end, while the cop he demeans is risking his life – so men like Kaepernick can ridicule and criticize them. I am grateful for a country that is protected by a military whose average salary is less than 1/10 of one percent of what Kaepernick makes. I don’t like what Kaepernick said, but I’m grateful he has the right to say it.
Only in America do you have incredible freedoms. Only in America is there liberty and justice for all. Only in America can a 27-year-old man make $12 million a year as a backup quarterback while dissing the country that makes that possible.
Only in America.