The following is a product of my own contemplation and research regarding a highly debatable subject that was then and now controversial in America. It was started about a year ago at the height of its controversy. I debated whether to post it since it is has become such a divisive issue.
This week again we see the conversation revert back towards the protests on the NFL field. Freedom of speech and expression, where to draw the line on what and how one can protest, seems to have drawn controversy. As our leaders and the media distract us, sadly the conversation shifts from the why to the how.
The Why and The How
Let’s first start with what is most important but mostly ignored, the why. Kaepernick began his protest by sitting on the bench during the national anthem prior to a preseason game on 14 August 2016, when he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers. He was not in uniform at the time.
In his own words (What is almost never directly quoted in this debate) the reasons were as follows.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview 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.”
“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.” (1)
This was followed by his employer (San Francisco 49ers) offering the following statement.
“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 and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”(1)
Niners coach at the time, Chip Kelly told reporters that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem is:
“his right as a citizen” and said, “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.” (1)
As such a professional athlete that is making 11.9 Million base salary guaranteed in 2016(2), took a risky step to protest what he believed was injustice in the country he is a citizen off.
Hindsight shows us that he gained nothing personally, risked losing what he had achieved professionally (and as we know now, is an unemployed QB who made two super bowl appearances) alienating his fans, facing scrutiny and criticism in a very harsh way for his protest.
His protest was in the public arena as an employee of the San Francisco 49ers, with the greatest visibility.
The criticism and Counter argument.
In a country where a cake makers right not to bake a gay couples wedding cake is seen as a victory for his religious beliefs, rights, and freedoms. A country in which Kim Davises dereliction of duty where she refused to perform her elected duty based on her own convictions rather than the law, is touted. How could there be so much opposition to the none violent, non-discriminatory NFL protest?
I can understand someone’s conflict with his method of protest, or the issue he’s raising. That’s the right you have to your opinion, but what I wasn’t expecting was to find so much dissent on his right to protest.
As I understand, a national anthem and the national flag are symbols of the values of a country. What does that actually mean? what does this country and its symbols mean to its citizens?
myself not being a native of the USA, questioned what they saw America’s symbolism to be. how did regular Americans see themselves? I even read about the history, the revolutionary war, declaration of independence, and federalist papers to get a sense of what the founding fathers of America were trying to achieve.
The one constant theme throughout history was how much America saw itself as a symbol of freedom. The Pilgrims freedom to practice their own religious believes, the freedom of the colonies against taxation without representation.
The 2nd world war, the cold war, the Vietnam war and Gulf wars were all in the public stage about championing democracy and freedoms of the masses.
The contradiction to an independent observer without any skin in the game was how these values contradicted each other when criticising the NFL protests. I have in my time seen violent protests, armed uprisings. How could one man’s act of protest, led by his conscience, clearly articulated, symbolic in nature, be so controversial.
My conversations with many who spoke on this or wrote on these protest directed me in several directions for why this protest was so controversial.
Anger at Kaepernick for not showing the anthem or the flag its due respect. outrage at the visual of it? Seeing it on nationally televised time?
In my opinion not standing for a national anthem is disrespectful. I don’t think anyone can argue on that fact. At the same time a protest is in its nature controversial, attention-grabbing.
The NFL policy change acknowledges that the players could choose to stay in the locker rooms and protest in private. Many have also raised similar thoughts. That it is fine to protest in private, outside of the stadium. That there are other options for them to protest without disrespecting the flag or the anthem.
This argument only seems to confirm that for some the issue is the visual nature of the protest. That it’s done at an NFL game, in public view. Which leads us to the second argument.
Anger at feeling uncomfortable that the protest is raising issues about race, that it makes us question racism, bias, and its existence. Or our own belief that the issues he is trying to protest are a none issue. That it doesn’t exist.
Is racism a tough subject that America has and continues to have trouble addressing? Could that be why there’s been such an outcry over confederate monuments, back clash over the black lives matter movements? Has America its education system not dealt with a dark time in its past? Does admitting to its mistakes and acknowledging them seem like a weakness to the patriotism in Americans.
Then there was the anger that a player of African American decent, making large sums of money, successful in this country, could protest the system that has led to his success.
Judge Shapiro on one of her segments addresses Kaepernick protest criticizing him, as a player of African American descent who is making millions of dollars, who has benefited from the current system not being thankful that the system has allowed him to get to where he has.
Again to the rational mind, isn’t that a misdirection of what Kaepernick is trying to stand for. Isn’t it as ridiculous as saying John Rankin couldn’t be an abolitionist because he is white? I strongly felt that in some quarters there was anger and contempt towards Kaepernick himself, the messenger more than the message.
Finally, it is because some believe his protest is disrespectful to the anthem and flag which equates to disrespecting the veterans and soldiers.
This is a quick and fast argument that elicits strong emotions not merely from veterans but any patriotic American that believes that each of them is being personally insulted. In my opinion that is why our leaders use this argument more than any other.
So again I would let Kaepernick’s own words explain his intentions.
Reporter: So many people see the flag as a symbol of the military. How do you view it and what do you say to those people?
Kaepernick: I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.
When asked whether his protest could be construed as “a blanket indictment of law enforcement in general,” Kaepernick said:
There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change. There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher. You have people that practice law and are lawyers and go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.
On 30 August 2016, the Army Times published an open letter to Kaepernick from former Seattle Seahawks player Nate Boyer, who served as a Green Beret in U.S. and saw military actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In the piece, Boyer reflected on how he felt standing on the field as the anthem played during his only appearance for the Seahawks:
I thought about how far I’d come and the men I’d fought alongside who didn’t make it back. I thought about those overseas who were risking their lives at that very moment. I selfishly thought about what I had sacrificed to get to where I was, and while I knew I had little to no chance of making the Seahawks’ roster as a 34-year-old rookie, I was trying.
That moment meant so much more to me than even playing in the game did, and to be honest, if I had noticed my teammate sitting on the bench, it would have really hurt me.
I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.
Boyer and Kaepernick met after the open letter was published, and before San Francisco’s final preseason game on 2 September 2016 in San Diego — the first time the quarterback knelt in front of the bench instead of sitting during the anthem. Boyer posted a photograph of himself with Kaepernick following the meeting, and later said:
We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammate. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.
Kaepernick’s then-teammate Eric Reid joined him in kneeling for the protest prior to that game. He recalled the experience in an op-ed published by The New York Times on 25 September 2017:
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
Boyer also expanded on his discussion with both Reid and Kaepernick during a CNN town hall broadcast on 27 September 2017:
[Kaepernick] reached out and we were able to sit down together for a couple of hours before the last preseason game last year. It was really cool to hear him just listen, too, and be very open-minded, too, and [say] “Look, I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to hurt your brothers and sisters.” I showed him text messages of friends of mine and some of them were saying I was a disgrace to the Green Berets ’cause I was even meeting with him. And some of them were like, “I’m with you man but it really hurts me to see that.”
So when I talked to them, it was mutual. Me, him, and Eric Reid [said] “I think maybe taking a knee would be a little more respectful. It’s still a demonstration. You’re still saying something but, people take a knee to pray. So for me it was a common ground, at least, to start from.
The last question I asked myself was if this outrage is real? Are the people, lambs lead to slaughter. Being told to be angry, devastated, appalled.
The Snopes article I sighted above and simple logic would lead you to a middle ground. You might not like the visuals, you might not agree with the reason for his protest, You might dismiss his protest as antiques, and dismiss it outright. But it doesn’t take away from a person’s right to a none violent protest. Any American and Kaepernick himself should be thankful to live in a country where a protest of this nature is allowed.
Importantly we should not allow a false outrage to be created surrounding this protest by the media or our political leaders, and have us be manipulated by a false sense of anger when the anger should be directed at a system that has failed some of your own fellow citizens.
At the end of the day, while we are getting into an uproar about the nature of the protest, we need to ask ourselves why and what these athletes are using their platform for, and that issues they are trying to shed light on. An issue that you might not have taken the time to read about, research or more importantly understand.
We, including myself, have biases that we subconsciously hold. I believe we should all take the time to expand our views, empathize with others, understand a perspective outside of ourselves and be patient with others.
We should also question our leaders and the media when they set our narratives for us.
Throughout all of the conversations, while we are being told what and how to be angry by our leaders, the actual message of the protest, the social issue, is lost to the masses. That is the true failure in all of us.