San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has received a huge amount of attention since he began, in protest, refusing to stand for the national anthem before his team’s games.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said.
Since then, athletes in several sports and at all levels, including high school, have followed his example. But critics say his choice disrespects America and the veterans who fought for the country’s freedoms.
Is it appropriate to protest during the national anthem? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Protests aren’t supposed to make you feel good.
Protests are supposed to make you feel angry. They’re supposed to grab your attention. They’re supposed to make you think about things you’d normally ignore. And if they’re really successful, they even get you to take action.
Kaepernick’s anthem protest has accomplished at least three of those four goals. The spread of that protest — high school athletes and college marching band members have now joined in — suggests he has hit a nerve: Black Americans are still too often treated as second-class citizens in this country.
You’re mad about that? Good.
You’re angry about protests against that? That’s still great — because it means, even if you disagree, that you can’t pretend there’s not a problem. As the kids like to say: Sorry, not sorry.
Kaepernick’s critics have offered a variety of reasons why his protest might be inappropriate: He’s rich. His act disrespects veterans who fought for freedom. It’s not fun for people who turn to football as an escape to be forced to deal with the ugly world of politics.
But being rich doesn’t necessarily buffer you from the legal humiliations that seem to go with being black: Remember when Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his own house after an officer responded to a break-in report? That can happen to white people — but it doesn’t seem to, not very often.
And while veterans deserve our respect for fighting for our freedoms, it’s also the case that respect is often used as a tool to discourage Americans from actually exercising the freedoms that they defended. Simply put: The argument is nonsense.
As for missing the escape that football provides: Well, boo hoo. You can’t handle two minutes of protest out of three hours of entertainment? You can’t turn on the TV five minutes later to avoid the spectacle you hate? Toughen up, sports fans.
Truth is, there’s probably no satisfying the critics. So Kaepernick should continue his protest. And if that gets people upset, well, good. That means the protest is working.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool,” a wise aphorist once said, “than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
Government oppression may be a fact of life in the United States of America today, but at least the right to be an indisputable fool remains inviolate.
Kaepernick’s “protest” — the quotes are meant to suggest contempt — is political theater. Nothing wrong with that, of course. America has a grand tradition of political theater, dating back to the Boston Tea Party. Insofar as other athletes in and out of the NFL are following his lead, Kaepernick is a trendsetter.
Kaepernick’s patriotism isn’t really in question. He thinks the United States is a racist country and he thinks police go out of their way to arrest, beat, shoot and kill black people. He isn’t a patriot. In that respect, he’s a dime a dozen.
Are people upset with the back-up quarterback’s protest? In fact, people are tuning out. NFL ratings have plummeted every week since Kaepernick’s stunt began a month ago. That means the protest is failing.
The problem is that Kaepernick has attached his name and reputation to Black Lives Matter, an organization that countenances violence against police even as it denounces violence against black citizens. Once you’ve thrown in with that lot, you’ve lost half the country.
There are plenty of bad cops. And there are doubtless more than a few police officers who look askance at black citizens because they’re black, not because they’re doing anything wrong. One of the great unspoken problems with police today is an us-versus-them mentality, with police being “us” and everyone else — black, brown, white, whatever — being “them.”
If law enforcement wants to restore public trust, police officers must be held to a higher standard. They can give you a badge and a gun, but they cannot give you good judgment. We need to weed out the cops whose bad judgment cost innocent people their lives. Body-worn cameras should be mandatory. And the most egregious officer-involved shootings should be prosecuted. Everything else is just spectacle.
Joel Mathis is an award-winning writer in Kansas. Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or www.facebook.com/benandjoel.