When Colin Took A Seat

Nov 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) watches play on the sidelines during the second half against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams won 27-6. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We all know that Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand up for the National Anthem last week, citing that he wouldn’t stand “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” The event has been plastered all over the news and everyone has been running to TV stations and Internet sites to give their opinion.

To some, he’s a truth teller and a warrior for the voiceless.

To others, he’s a disrespectful idiot who is showing a lack of respect to our military.

And some will take neither side because there’s too much grey area between the absolutes that needs to be dealt with.

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Freedom of speech…just watch what you say.
-Ice – T

It’s interesting that many preach the ideals of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech that it gives. But many of those same people want to rip others to shreds when they exercise that very freedom but say things that are not agreeable.

Here’s a newsflash. There’s no law that says Kaepernick has to stand. The NFL doesn’t mandate its players to stand. It’s encouraged but not mandatory. He chose to not stand and gave his reasons why he didn’t.

But there’s a couple of problems here. First of all, if Colin Kaepernick did this in a boxing ring or a tennis court or a golf course, then all of the criticism would fall solely on him. Those are individual sports and his actions affect no one but himself. But he plays football, a team game. He also plays quarterback, which designates him as one of the leaders of the team. He plays professionally, which means he represents a franchise and a city. His actions have a direct result on all parties.

Also, whether or not you agree with the ideals of this country or the flag, you have to respect people who believe in it wholeheartedly. That includes all minorities. Many men and women have served, fought, and died for the country and the flag. They believed in what they represented, even in the face of discrimination, oppression, and denial of basic human rights. Kaepernick owes them at least that amount of time.

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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.
-Jackie Robinson, “I Never Had It Made”

Some have tried to compare Kaepernick to Jackie Robinson or Muhammed Ali or even Martin Luther King. But anyone trying to make that claim doesn’t get it. In order to make a stand, one has to make a sacrifice. King lost his life at thirty-nine. Ali was not loved and revered until Parkinson’s disease took away his voice. Robinson, under the weight of breaking the color line in baseball, withered away in declining health and died at fifty-three.

Kaepernick is still employed by the San Francisco 49ers. He is still in a battle to be the starting quarterback. If he does stay on with the team, they will owe him $11 million based on his contract. If he plays next year, he’s owed $15 million. I don’t recall hearing him give up any of that salary to the oppressed people that he sat down for.

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A stand without a sacrifice is merely a gesture and over time that gesture becomes empty. It fades away like a blip on the screen, unrecognizable as time marches on. Kaepernick’s stance is exactly the same as former Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul Rauf took twenty years ago. He didn’t stand for the flag, either, and for the very same reasons as Kaepernick. But the NBA had a rule that mandated players stand for the playing of the National Anthem. Rauf was suspended for a game but then agreed to stand but he bowed in prayer as the song was played.

Maybe something stronger will come out of this. But something inside of me doubts it. I think Colin Kaepernick has relied too much on TV and the Internet to form his views. Those media dictate narratives about race relations, ignoring the complexities of life among the many to paint a far too broad picture of the stories of the few.

There are problems in this country and no one is denying that. But there are ways to bring attention to them. When a stance is taken, there are has to be some sort of investment or sacrifice that goes along with it. Activism is not glamorous or free. Simply speaking out means nothing. People can see through words or even gestures. Colin Kaepernick made a statement. Now we wait to see what he does next.

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