The San Francisco 49ers used to have a really good quarterback named Colin Kaepernick. He was the versatile, up-and-coming starting QB for the team in their most recent Super Bowl appearance in 2013. Since then, Kaepernick has been a lethal combination of regularly injured and consistently not very good at the sport he is paid $19 million per year to play—or, in this instance, not to play.
Over the past two seasons, Kaepernick has been fined for using a racial slur on the field, lost his job to backup Blaine Gabbert, and watched his once promising career take the type of nose-dive few can ever recover from.
And then, on the Friday night before a preseason game vs. the Green Bay Packers, there was this:
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he refused to stand during the national anthem on Friday because of his views on the country’s treatment of racial minorities.
“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 after Friday’s 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.”
Fan reaction on social media has been overwhelmingly negative. Some journalists, predictably, are backing Kaepernick’s Star Spangled snub as nothing more than the exercise of a private citizen’s public right to free speech.
NFL columnist Jarrett Bell of USA Today went so far as to compare Colin Kaepernick to iconic civil rights figures from the past.
The way I see it, he just earned a lot of street cred, as they say, for at least taking a stand for something that he’s obviously passionate about—knowing full well that there could be a political price to pay.
Somewhere, Muhammad Ali is smiling.
When I made small talk with Kaepernick in the locker room after last weekend’s preseason game in Denver, he was wearing a black baseball cap with a large, silver X in the middle—the exact hat that I wore during the early ‘90s after Spike Lee’s biopic on Malcolm X was released. Kaepernick sported the same hat during his postgame press conference Friday.
That, too, was an expression. And it’s cool. Kaepernick, adopted and raised by white parents, has been growing with his self-awareness, a person familiar with his thinking told USA TODAY Sports. That could be one reason why he’s willing to make a bold statement.
Kaepernick is 28. Malcolm X was 28 when he came out of prison with an evolving self-awareness. I’m twice that old but constantly working on self-awareness. And so is this nation, which Kaepernick shone a light on in his own way.
Of course, no one disagrees with the notion that anyone—regardless of his color, the size of his bank account or his number of Instagram followers—has the right to protest and utilize the protections of the First Amendment. We get that. Fully understood.
But free speech is a two-way street. And while I will not join the ranks of meat-head NFL fans who feel that they must use coarse language on their Facebook walls or melodramatic, symbolic acts of arson to voice their displeasure with Kaepernick’s actions, I find his decision to disrespect the National Anthem distasteful and unhelpful.
As bad as Colin Kaepernick is at football, he remains a highly visible “star” in the world of professional sports. He has the platform to say just about anything he wants to, whenever he wants to. If he wanted to sit down for an interview with any journalist from a Bay Area media outlet, he could have opened up about his concerns in a manner that would positively communicate his worldview. As a biracial man who was adopted and raised by a white family, he could have used that experience to offer whatever insights he thinks he has into race relations.
Instead, Kaepernick selfishly chose to dishonor what is intended to be a moment of reverence and remembrance for a nation that has protected its citizens’ freedoms and right to self-expression for centuries. We owe those two minutes when someone is singing “The Star Spangled Banner” to the brave men and women who protect our freedoms, as well as to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in securing them.
Even world-class Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt—not an American—seems to understand this.
Kaepernick is standing by his decision to dishonor the anthem and says he will continue to refuse to stand during future games, but his silly stunt serves as a reminder of just how misguided some of our celebrities have become when it comes to protesting supposed injustices. Here’s something for Kaepernick to think about while he spends so much time sitting down during the National Anthem and sitting on the bench during this football season: You’re no Jackie Robinson.