I struggled for a couple days before I sat down to write about Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem. In the end I still might not say everything right, but I’m not going to let that deter me from expressing my feelings about the situation. I could start by rattling off multiple instances when an athlete decided not to stand, hand over their heart, while the anthem was being played but that would be counterproductive and adds nothing to the conversation. It also takes away from what I feel is the real issue Kaepernick, and many other people of color have: that America, whose pledge of “justice for all” isn’t the same for everyone.
This isn’t a one-time thing for Kaepernick as he protested in the same manner before the previous preseason game. Nor was it a ploy to gain media attention as ESPN’s Bomani Jones pointed out in his excellent piece for The Undefeated. Of course in today’s social media world all it took for reporters, fans, and the like to chime in was a cell phone photo taken by someone in the stands. Reaction ranged from applauding the decision to irate fans burning number seven jerseys while playing the national anthem. Which, correct me if I’m wrong, is also an inappropriate action while the anthem is played.
“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.”
-Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
What makes the current conversation surrounding Kaepernick so interesting is that it revolves around a conflict that many Americans have everyday in this country. The conflict between the America everyone dreams of and the one many, unfortunately, live everyday. An America that leaves many feeling inadequate, unheard, overlooked, fearing those who are sworn to protect them, and that one’s inability to radically change their socioeconomic status marks them as a leach of society.
The reality of the American dream can be polarizing, but the beauty of America is in its citizens. Our freedom and ability to collectively mold the American culture, i.e. the American dream, is what makes this country great. By allowing ourselves to blindly believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, while simultaneously ignoring the cries of those citizens who suffer from injustice within it, that’s when it becomes impossible to realize change and truly establish America as “one nation” that is “indivisible.” Naturally, many viewed Kaepernick’s actions as disrespectful, with some on social media telling him to “leave” if he isn’t happy here and crying hypocrite because of the monetary success he’s achieved in America (as if those two things are mutually exclusive). True understanding is sitting down and understanding why this man, who has enjoyed success in this country, is upset to the point of feeling he can’t support its anthem.
Many have called his actions a slight to those who have served in the military and fight for our country. A lack of respect for their sacrifices. I’ve been blessed in many ways living in America, but I also recognize that America isn’t the same for everyone. I fully respect the sacrifices of those that have fought for this country, but I also respect the sacrifices of those who fought, and are still fighting for, equality in America. Civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and many others. Those types of sacrifices are valid, too.
To understand Kaepernick’s protest is to define what America means to you and asking yourself if everyone is living in the place you envision. I posed this question on my social media and got a lot of different answers. Some revolved around hope, some sounded disenchanted, and some sounded frustrated. All told me that there is work to be done, and here’s hoping that’s a conversation this protest leads to.