I’m not a football fan. I don’t know the rules. I don’t know which teams are the best. I like pinning Superbowl recipes and then watching the commercials and Halftime Show. But that’s about it.
I know so little about football, that prior to Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem in 2016, I had never heard of him.
I must assume this was largely the point. Even someone like me, who would otherwise never know Kaepernick, suddenly began paying attention to what he was doing and why.
From the beginning, Kaepernick’s motivations for refusing to stand during the national anthem were never elusive. The idea that those who refuse to stand during the anthem do not respect our country and military is maddening as Kaepernick himself has consistently shown tremendous respect for the military through both his words and actions.
Even Trump has pushed the false narrative that those who do not stand during the national anthem disrespect our country. Clearly, Trump didn’t even consider why exactly someone might use the opportunity to exercise their constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest. It’s unclear if he’ll attack the millions of Americans who sit in their living rooms and eat corn chips while the national anthem is sung in the background next. He’s quite unpredictable.
Immediately after Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem, he held a locker room media session. For nearly 20 minutes, he directly described why he is protesting and answered reporter’s many questions with an eloquence and candor severely lacking in a White House press briefing. Sarah Huckabee Sanders should have taken notes.
“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country,” Kaepernick said during the 2016 NFL media briefing. “There are a lot things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
Given the lives that are unnecessarily lost in our country, Kaepernick’s statement sounds less like a radical opinion and more like an undisputable fact. If our fellow citizens needlessly die and are treated unjustly on American soil, how can we stand for freedom, liberty, and justice for all?
If you truly love our country and see injustice, shouldn’t you call attention to it? Isn’t dissent fundamentally patriotic?
The protest of refusing to stand during the anthem has been frequently misconstrued as disrespectful to our nation’s military. In that first media briefing after Kaepernick sat during the anthem, a reporter asked about his feelings towards the military and he was unwavering in his support--
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” Kaepernick said. “I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
Kaepernick and others are not disrespecting the military. They are protesting in part because they respect the military and understand they deserve respect when they return home. Veterans are not immune from police brutality and unjust killings.
Do you remember when Kaepernick began to kneel instead of sit during the national anthem? Do you know why he suddenly changed?
Military veteran and Seattle Seahawks long-snapper Nate Boyer wrote an op-ed in Military Times expressing his conflicted feelings about Kaepernick’s protest. He described the pride he personally felt standing on the sidelines during the national anthem and how hurt he would feel if he noticed a teammate sitting on the bench.
Instead of defending himself against such a criticism, Kaepernick welcomed it. He invited Boyer to a game and sent an Uber to drive him 120 miles to San Diego. In a Westin hotel lobby, they had a frank discussion about protesting racial oppression while showing respect for those who serve and have served in our nation’s military.
49ers safety Eric Reid joined the conversation and suggested kneeling instead of sitting during the National Anthem. Boyer agreed that kneeling would be more respectful and also suggested Kaepernick join his teammates instead of isolating himself on the bench as he did previously.
To symbolize his respect for the military, he began kneeling.
Kaepernick continued his pledged support of veterans and military members beyond his conversation with Boyer. As part of his $1 million pledge to various charities, he donated a large amount to the Black Veterans for Social Justice.
Those who choose to kneel instead of standing for the anthem are showing love for their country simply by peacefully declaring we have a problem and it needs to be fixed. The "Take a Knee" protest is and has always been, about racial oppression and inequality. If we take offense to this act of peaceful protest as a sign of disrespecting our country, what does that say about our country?
I hope to see the day Colin Kaepernick stands with his hand over his heart filled with pride for our country. Not because he fears professional consequences or a mean tweet from the POTUS, but because together we finally demanded an end to racial oppression and became the great country we all deserve.