Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?

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“Yes, I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

— Colin Kaepernick

If you don’t think it takes guts to stay seated during the National Anthem, then buy a ticket for a major sporting event –let’s say, a baseball game– and refuse to stand up when the singing starts. Then you’ll see the fur fly. Then you’ll see how rankled people get when you don’t participate in their patriotic rituals.

On Friday night, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game with the Green Bay Packers. As a result, he’s been universally excoriated, scorned and reviled by liberals and conservatives alike. I mean, it’s only been 48 hours since the incident, and already the man has already been dragged through the meatgrinder. Almost overnight, Kaepernick has become the guy that everyone loves to hate, the new Hitler.

But, why? Because he had the audacity to make a statement about the treatment of blacks in America today?  Because he wanted to draw attention to the numerous young black men that have gunned down by cops in cities across the country?  Because he wanted people to realize that the “land of the free” ain’t so free if your skin isn’t lily-white?  Is that why everyone is so pissed off?

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…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.” (C. Kaepernick)

He’s got a point, doesn’t he?  The killing of black men by cops has reached an epidemic level and yet nothing ever happens. Nothing. The perpetrators conjure up some goofy alibi with the help of their lawyers, and invariably get off scott-free. Every damn time.  Why is that? Why can’t African Americans get justice in this country? It’s sickening and ridiculous at the same time.

Why is it ridiculous?

It’s ridiculous because the masses are more incensed about Kaepernick’s ‘sit-down’ protest than they are about the dozens of black men who end up getting snuffed-out by trigger-happy cops.  Talk about ‘getting your priorities wrong.’

So now we’re going to have to suffer through weeks of anti-Kaepernick hysteria and demonization so the media can further exacerbate racial divisions by triggering a firestorm of rage from the uber-patriot crowd that thinks that black athletes should ‘shut-the-hell-up and play ball or leave the country’.

Think I’m kidding? Take a look at some of these statements on the Washington Post comments line:

“What a F-ing clown. His sorry a** should be focused on claiming the starting spot and gaining the respect and trust of his teammates instead some stupid a** protest. He’s done. What a scrub!”   DooDoo

“If America is so bad why not move somewhere else? Ungrateful jerk.”   David Nicholson

“This Country does NOT oppress anyone….stop being a victim.”   Barry Rock

“What an A Hole. Blacks kill each other on a nightly basis in every city in this country. No one brings up black lives matter then do they? Maybe people should put their efforts into stopping these senseless killings. Only when it is a cop killing a black, which by the way were doing things criminally wrong in the first place, does anyone want to protest. Sorry I mean loot, vandalize and burn down cities. I was taught at a young age if you stay out of trouble you won’t have any problems with the law. There’s a new concept for you. Kapernick you can rot in hell.”   Yogi4130

“….Somebody needs to slap a pair of fatigues on this little nitwit and drop him off in a firefight in the Afghan War. My guess is he lives in a gated community where he has the darkest skin of anyone. Millionaire sport figures, even ones who don’t perform all that well, are not an inspiration for social justice. Colin should work on his performance in the game rather than try and make social statements.”   Vanzetti

“Kaepernick has every right to act like a sulking egotistical brat. Fans have every right to think less of him, and of the team’s management.”   balt21212

“A lot of people died in my family so this millionaire dimwit ball-chucker can shoot his uninformed mouth off when he wants and disrespect our country. If I owned the SF team I would sack you by text message, Colin.”   Roy

“I’m about as liberal as they come, but I’d fire his a** if I owned the 49ers. I can’t think of many companies that would allow their employees to use their workplace, uniform, resources and reputation as props for personal and controversial protests.”  recordhigh

“What has this slime done for this country except get paid way too much for throwing a football. It is just a game. This guy is just another Jesse Jackson/ Al Sharpton poverty pimp in the making.”   liberty

Nice, eh?  And there’s nothing unusual about the comments I chose either, in fact, the vast majority of the submissions were stridently anti-Kaepernick.

But does Kaepernick really deserve this outpouring of hated and vitriol? Isn’t he just asking whether the values espoused in the National Anthem actually apply to African Americans or not?  That’s a fair question, isn’t it?

Think of it this way: Maybe this IS the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if you’re white, but if you’re black,  not so much.

Do you really get a square deal in America if you’re black? Is it really a level playing field?  Is equal opportunity a fact or fiction? Aren’t you much more likely to be harassed, threatened,  brutalized and incarcerated if you’re black than if you’re white?

These are no-brainer questions. Everyone knows the answers to these questions if they’re honest with themselves, that is.  Life is just tougher if you are black in America, there’s no two-ways about it.

So why don’t we try something entirely different for once. Why don’t we give Kaepernick the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s not an attention-seeking “America hater”.  Let’s assume that he’s just trying to do the right thing by pointing out our shortcomings as a nation just like Mohammed Ali did  when he refused to be inducted into the military in April, 1967.

Remember that? At the time Ali was raked over the coals too, but he toughed it out because he was a man of principal. People conveniently forget about the hostility and scorn that was heaped on Ali because it doesn’t jibe with the modern-day remake of Ali as a national treasure. But, trust me, the man was more widely despised than Kaepernick.

And Ali didn’t hate America any more than Kaepernick does.  He just decided that it was more important to do the right thing and take his lumps than stay silent and cave in to public pressure.

It looks to me like Kaepernick is following the same moral blueprint. He just wants America to deliver on its promise of freedom and equality for all.

Is that too much to ask?

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MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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