Don’t Miss the Message: Colin Kaepernick Sits in Protest

I’m not buying it. First, there was an attempt to persecute 20-year-old Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas when she didn’t place her hand over her heart while the national anthem played. She wasn’t politically motivated; she simply chose to stand at attention during the song. This led to “outrage.” And by outrage, I do mean the American interpretation of outrage which is a thinly veiled mask for racism, sexism and hate in general. The public harshly criticized every move she made from that point on…you know after she did the most patriotic thing an American citizen can do, second to military service, which is REPRESENT YOUR COUNTRY AT THE OLYMPICS AND BRING HOME MULTIPLE GOLD MEDALS. Though it was completely unnecessary, as it is HER RIGHT to demonstrate her patriotism however she chooses, Gabby made a public apology saying, “I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone.”  Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t this country founded on principles that allowed for the freedoms such as choosing whether you wanted to participate in rituals? More importantly it should be noted that the “hand over the heart” was a part of the Pledge of Allegiance tradition, not necessarily the National Anthem. So…honestly, truly…why is anyone giving Gabby Douglas grief? It’s important to note that Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself and in turn embarrassed the country after lying about an altercation he and his teammates had with Brazilian police officers after defacing property in Rio. He lost a couple of endorsements and has been the butt of a few late night show jokes…but for the most part, he’s been forgiven and handled with the typical “boys will be boys” attitude. He is not a boy; he is a 32-year-old man. That is something to be outraged about but I digress.

Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, in a completely politically motivated move has decided to not stand while the national anthem is played. Kaepernick explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. 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.” This important move that he made has been met with a firestorm of contradictory and hypocritical opinions that I’m just not here for. I heard multiple radio personalities on the Houston sports talk airways share a similar opinion of acknowledging that what he was protesting was “an issue,” (even making light of it in some instances), but his method of protest was “misguided.” To anyone who shares that opinion, please tell me how? How is it misguided for him to demand more from his country and take a stand (well…a sit) over a song that has a history of celebrating slavery? How? There was a suggestion of him finding another way of tackling the issue by donating money to an organization. There was a supremely erroneous suggestion of him switching his focus from police brutality to “Black on Black” violence which was absurd and disappointing considering the person who made this remark was a Black host. Those are two very separate conversations and mixing the two further perpetuates this idea that the injustices Black people face at the hands of a prejudiced justice system is somehow the fault of the victims. In a move just as disturbing, former Patriots safety, Rodney Harrison, went on air in Houston and said, “I’m a Black man and Colin Kaepernick … he’s NOT BLACK.” Are you kidding me? Harrison actually believes that you can measure blackness and because Kaepernick’s biological mother is white he is not black enough. As if ethnicity has anything to do with championing a cause for those who don’t have a voice. Let the multiple face-palms commence. I believe the “outrage” is a convenient way to ignore the message. To everyone who is saying Colin is “not the right guy” to deliver this message or use his platform in this way (which is the biggest platform because Football is king in America), you might want to explore what you are so angry about in the first place. Real freedom and equality requires EVERYONE’S participation. So as I said before, I’m not buying any of this back handed critique of how Colin chooses to perform his patriotism or exercise his rights. I attend hundreds of professional sports games over the course of a year and no one is criticized on how they behave during the anthem. Some stand at attention, some have their hands over their hearts, some are occupied on their phones, some remain seated, some sing along, and some continue their conversations. The National Anthem has long been a space for protest for athletes in particular. Kaepernick is not the first and he won’t be the last. In his 1972 autobiography, Jackie Robinson wrote, “As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a Black man in a White world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.” Though their experiences differ, the sentiment is the same. I believe Colin is doing exactly what he set out to do and that is peel back another layer to further expose the festering wound that we have in America; race. His actions have added fuel to this conversation that needs to happen. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the history of the “Star Spangled Banner,” know that it was written during slavery by Francis Scott Key who was a proud owner of slaves and saw Black people as “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” Meaning that the “land of the free” lyric he penned certainly did not apply to slaves. So yes, we have a long way to go before all people of color can experience true freedom but until then I will leave you with the chilling lyrics found in the third verse of the National anthem.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave.

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

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