On Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem Protests

Today marks the start of Week 2 of the NFL season.  In a few hours, the Bills and Jets will start off a week which I expect to have a lot of exciting, competitive games, just like last week.  I also expect there to be some pre-game protests of the National Anthem, just as there was last week.  The man that started the protests, who has been at the forefront of the controversy surrounding them, is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  This has become a polarizing topic of conversation throughout the country, and as a dedicated sports fan, I figured that this would be a conversation worth entering.

So I’m just going to come right out and say it: in the moments after I first heard about Kaepernick’s protests, I decided that I disagreed with them.  I thought that the explanation that he gave for his actions was shallow.  I felt that the movement that developed from Kaepernick’s actions did so in poor taste- protesting the flag and song of our country, especially on, and so close to, the anniversary of 9/11, felt like an insult to me.  I felt that Kaepernick, and the other players that followed his lead, should be suspended, or fined, or something- anything to convey the idea that disrespecting the Anthem and the flag would be deemed unacceptable.

The thing about this, though, is that who I am does not give me a real right to determine whether these protests are “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad.”  I am not a minority in this country.  I have never had to worry about to worry about being discriminated against based on the color of my skin.  I have never had to fight against drastic economic and social disadvantages.  I have never been called anything derogatory.  I have never had to face unwanted, and unwarranted, stereotypes of thugishness or violence.  I don’t have any fear of any type of interaction with a law enforcement officer.  There are many other struggles that I do not have to deal with on a daily basis, just because I was born white.  In short- my race, and my life experiences, do not make me qualified to judge Kaepernick and his colleagues for what they’re choosing to do.  The large majority of people that are lambasting Kaepernick for his actions- either publicly or privately- also have no rationale to go off of when they insult the quarterback.

If anything, I feel like I, and more people like me, should be showing Kaepernick some more respect for what he is trying to do: what he feels is necessary to start a conversation on the systemic racism that permeates our society.  And, if I’m going to be honest, he’s probably doing it in the most effective way that he, in his position as a major public figure, possibly could- demonstrating during the National Anthem is having a much deeper effect than any statement he could make ever would.  For that, Kaepernick deserves recognition- even if he is trying to gain some personal attention for himself, which many of his critics claim he is, his willingness to stand up to the inequalities in our country, despite some very vicious backlash, deserves to be commended for the attention that he is trying to bring to such a major problem (I think he is trying to get some attention for himself, but that’s not his main message, and is so insignificant that even thinking he is, regardless of whether or not it’s true, is irrelevant).

Now, don’t get me wrong here: on the surface, I still disagree with the method Kaepernick’s protest.  I feel that there must be some way, any way, for him to get his point across without having to kneel for this country’s most patriotic song, one I learned to be so passionate about that I used to sing it on my karaoke when I was younger.  I find some irony in the fact that the fact that he says that this country, as a whole, represses the minority population while the President is a minority himself.  I wholeheartedly believe that police across the country, those that have been involved in the terribly tragic, and in hindsight, unnecessary, deaths of minorities, and those that haven’t have far too much of a negative reputation.

Deep down, though, I know that things are much more complicated than that.  I know that there is a serious problem in our country if people of color have to worry about so many different issues that white people like myself have never taken the time to consider.  I know that, despite all of the measures put in place to prevent it, that racism is still a major problem, and that in many instances of interactions between authority figures, from the more obvious ones of police officers to the less obvious ones of prosecutors who push for longer sentences for people of color, judges that refuse to acknowledge such blatant displays of discrimination, and business professionals who prefer the “old white boys’ club” to hiring any minorities, even if they are more talented or qualified.  I know are problems that minorities face that I will never fully understand, problems that have a much deeper meaning to those that actually have to experience them.

So please: even if you disagree with what Kaepernick is doing, do not lose track of what he is saying; do not ignore it or brush it off, either, because what he’s saying is the most important part of his protest.  The problems that he is discussing cannot be denied.  Minorities in this country are too often shafted in nearly every facet of their lives.  So while I, personally, will stand and proudly sing the National Anthem whenever I hear it, for all that it embodies for this great country, we need some serious change to make sure that everyone can have a chance to feel that pride.

My opinion here doesn’t necessarily condone what Kaepernick is doing, but I think (I hope) that it doesn’t give much credence to his detractors, either.  Whether that makes this a thoughtful opinion or a weak one for being “indecisive,” I don’t know.  I also don’t know what I, myself, or anybody, really, can do to effectively initiate the change that I called for above- that’s why I didn’t specify what exactly can be, or needs to be, done to combat the issues Kaepernick presents.  So: if anyone has any opinion on this piece, any background on the protests or on the injustices that minorities face, constructive thoughts on how to address the issues at hand, or any other information to give relative to the situation, please, comment below or contact me here.  I’d love to have a conversation with you.

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