Colin Kaepernick may not play much in the NFL, but he continues to make headlines with actions that have nothing to do with football. His decision to protest police brutality against African-Americans by refusing to stand for the national anthem has become front-page news each time the San Francisco 49ers play, even when he doesn’t.
Over the course of the relatively-new NFL season, some players have decided to protest with Kaepernick, including his teammate Eric Reid and members of other teams. Some players, mostly black, have taken it upon themselves to further the conversation of Kaep’s protest by kneeling along with him, standing with their arms interlocked or raising their fists in solidarity.
Kaepernick’s motive behind the protests is a clear and important one: He will not stand and honor the national anthem of a country that oppresses people of color. Immediately, the protest sparked a slew of reactions from just about everyone, some wanted and some that the public couldn’t care less about. Responses from some who disagreed with the protest explained that they were fine with the idea of the demonstration, but doing it during the national anthem made them feel uncomfortable and Kaep should voice his opinions in another way.
If you read that last sentence and thought, “Well that totally defeats the point of a protest,” you’d be right. Protests are meant to make people feel uncomfortable; they are actions against something, which are bound to make people feel uneasy. Without that shock value, a protest holds no power and can’t provoke change, which is exactly what Colin Kaepernick was trying to do.
His willingness to be shamed by people who were made uncomfortable by his dissent brings awareness to the issue that he wants to shed light on. The funny thing about the conversations sparked by the national anthem protest is they began to take entirely different shapes and revealed some of the frightening views of the people in the country.
For example, a few responses ignorantly claimed that the 49ers quarterback had converted to Islam, and his Muslim girlfriend enticed him to protest social injustices by sitting during the national anthem. The rumors were quickly put down by Kaepernick who stated his respect for the religion, but said that he is not Muslim, and religion didn’t play a part in his decision to protest.
The fact that a rumor like that was even brought shows that Islamophobia is a major issue in America, and Muslim people are an easy target to blame when people begin to feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. There is a genuine fear of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, possibly because any publicity is good publicity in his case, and it all brings awareness to the issue at hand.
Arguments against Kaepernick tend to just validate his point even more. Saying that his protest is disrespecting the military or policemen and women is just not true. His argument covers a larger message that is muddled and misinterpreted with each additional response. Though everyone is entitled to their own opinions, Kaepernick’s message remains the same: People of color continue to be oppressed in this country and not enough is being done about it.
Trying to create victims of his protest just reveals the public’s inability to actually address the problem, and that’s a sad realization considering people of color continue to be oppressed on a daily basis. The outrage that should be poured into the unfair treatment of citizens of our country has instead become outrage for the method of protest and the person protesting. The misplaced anger is turning a movement that could bring change into one that is assigning blame to culprits who are just a scapegoat for the real problem.
There are some who agree with this method of protest, including President Obama, who said that the quarterback was just “exercising his constitutional right.” The President recognizes that these actions are generating conversations about racism and police brutality that would have never been started on their own. The country is often too afraid to look in the mirror and criticize itself, and is instead choosing to point fingers at minority targets for a way out of the spotlight.
What Colin Kaepernick is doing is not un-American, in fact it’s one of the most American things he could do at a time when the country needs it the most. The United States was built on a refusal to succumb to oppression, and at a time when African Americans are being targeted by racism, it’s going to take multiple polarizing voices to bring change. Kaepernick may have realized that as a football player in the NFL, he has a perfect platform to voice his opinions. The NFL basically owns a day of the week and is talked about every other day on sports TV and radio shows, who all set their sights on Colin Kaepernick when he began his protest during the preseason.
Without playing, he has polarized the country and opened up a dialogue about police brutality and racism. He refuses to let the issues he stands for be torn down by Islamophobia or more racism and tries to keep focus firmly on the issue at hand instead of on the protest. At times, the responses to the protest have revealed more about the state of the country than the protest itself.
The 49ers quarterback has received death threats since he started kneeling during the national anthem, he’s been blamed for terrorism and even been called a terrorist for peacefully protesting an issue he feels affected by. I’d bet most of the critics of Colin’s protest don’t even listen to his reasoning, they just witnessed his action and immediately deemed it disrespectful. This is not an issue of a flag or a national anthem, it is an issue of fairness and an exercisable right for citizens stand against oppression and make this country a better place.