The Audacity Of Colin Kaepernick’s Anthem Sit-In

Can there be a nuanced response to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick? This is something I muse — a response that doesn’t immediately devolve into an expo of moral superiority, manifested by over-the-top spectacles of football jersey-burning patriotism.

Kaepernick hit a double whammy of controversy. One whammy because of the audacity to assert black people should not face a disproportionate level of lethal force by police, and another whammy when he decided to air his grievance by sitting down during the national anthem at an NFL pre-season game. Kaepernick later explained to reporters, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Ever predictable, the prompt backlash against Kaepernick is a result of people in this country who believe a person can never do what he did. Even if a person has a legitimate grievance, there are many who can’t see past the patriotic slight. More over, his specific grievance, cops killing black people, has always been extraneous to these same people.

But even if you disagree with his grievance, this whole farce does beg a question. Is there ever a human rights grievance that makes this form of protest imperative? I believe there is, and I’m sure that opinion separates me from many, but let’s get real, what Kaepernick did was thoroughly passive. He did not harm anyone. That’s why I believe when people do things like burn football jerseys, it’s a response exaggerated to a level of absurdity. Burning those jerseys may also have done no harm, but it just strikes me as juvenile, the same kind of inanity we saw over a decade ago with the steamrolling of Dixie Chicks CDs.

Every time a celebrity or athlete says or does something controversial, especially when viewed by many as a patriotic affront, the unstoppable throbbing of the jingoistic outrage machine will drown out any subtlety of reason, flooding the valley of deceit with countless disingenuous pleas to respect the sacrifices of our veterans. But I wonder if we should respect a nation that forces people to conform to an arbitrary standard of patriotism, especially when there are so many legitimate things in this country deserving of our collective outrage. A keen sense of sadness should befall us when time-after-time we choose to assail easy targets. That’s why I find it impossible to feign outrage over a football player sitting during the anthem, especially when it is this forged outrage that is the real problem. So he didn’t stand up for a song. Okay, I get it, national anthem, cowboys and patriotism, red, white, and blue, and oh yeah, don’t forget to wear your flag lapel pin or we’ll call you a commie. But we are talking about a pre-game ritual that has at best a vague purpose. We human beings often screw up priorities, and in this instance people are more upset about an NFL player sitting during the national anthem than they are about real issues of outrage, like unarmed citizens gunned down by public servants.

The idea of protest is that you accept the consequences, because controversy pretty much is a required ingredient. You believe the objection you are raising is of greater importance to the sacrifice. When it comes to human rights, that is something we should admire, even when we disagree with a specific tactic. Kaepernick is a big boy, so he can defend himself. He made his own bed here. He knew what he was doing was controversial and that an emphatic response would follow. But that is kind of the point, right? I defend his right to air his grievance with passive protest. Obviously everyone is free to say what they want in response, and believe what they want to believe, just as Kaepernick was free to sit out the anthem.

We the People do not need permission to exercise our rights, and we certainly don’t need to “leave the country” because we choose to do so, even when some find what we say or do offensive. Freedom of speech is a two-way street, but let us also remember freedom of speech protects everyone, or it protects no one.

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