American Culture

S&R Honors: Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick

Justice. Fairness. Sacrifice. Service. Humility. Aren’t these qualities on which we Americans pride ourselves?

Few people were more in the news in 2017 than former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the man who touched off a massive cultural battle over his decision to kneel for the playing of the national anthem during the 2016 season. Oddly, he continued to dominate the headlines despite a conscious decision to stay out of the limelight, where he could better focus on his community and charitable activities.

Demonized, misrepresented and targeted with death threats … for what?

Americans are bad about ignoring facts, fetishing their ignorance and idolizing those who lie to them, and rarely do we encounter a better example of these dynamics in action than with l’affaire Kaepernick. Let’s take a moment, though, to review the facts of the case.

1: Kaepernick’s protest is about the inequitable treatment of racial minorities generally, and police violence against blacks specifically. Period.

“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 Mediaafter 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.”

2: However, those who would silence pro-justice protest have conducted a disinformation campaign suggesting he’s disrespecting the military.

President Donald Trump, a man with a long history of overt racism, has led the charge, and all too many others have piled on. Thankfully, many current and former military personnel have weighed in to support Kaepernick, but the trope is a powerful one. A Google search for [kaepernick disrespect the military] returns ~350,000 results. [kaepernick disrespect the flag anthem] is good for another 194,000.

But facts matter, and Kaepernick’s protest is not, in any way, shape or form, about the flag, the anthem or the military. This is something that those who benefit from the injustice he points to have made up, out of whole cloth, to discredit him.

If you’ll indulge me a second, though, I’d like to simply note that if he were attacking the anthem, that might be okay, given its decidedly racist message.

Seriously, is this the best we can do?

3: Kaepernick is right about the problem. 

Police violence against citizens disproportionately targets minorities and the numbers aren’t close.

police killings by race


4: Contrary to his portrayal by many media outlets, Kaepernick isn’t a do-nothing rabble-rouser.

In the wake of the peaceful, silent protests he started gaining traction throughout the course of the 2017-18 season, Kaepernick has actually stepped back, away from the spotlight. Instead, he has devoted his energies to charity.

He pledged to “donate one million dollars plus all the proceeds of my jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations working in oppressed communities,” a goal he has met to the benefit of organizations around the country. I’m guessing you haven’t seen much about this story, though, have you? Why do you think that is?

5: By the way, where did Kaepernick get the idea to kneel during the anthem?

Most people don’t know this story, either. But Kaep spoke with – and listened to – a Green Beret. From Texas.

Prior to the start of the 2016 NFL regular season, Kaepernick and Boyer met to discuss the anthem protest. As a result of that meeting, Kaepernick stopped sitting on the bench during the anthem. Instead, he adopted a new, but now well-known, gesture: taking a knee as most of his teammates stood alongside him. One of Kaepernick’s teammates, safety Eric Reid, joined him in kneeling during the anthem. In an op-ed for the New York Times published Monday afternoon, Reid explained that Boyer changed his and Kaepernick’s minds about the specific pose used in protest. “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture,” Reid wrote. “I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

How very … respectful.

If you’re a thoughtful citizen, right about now you might be asking why so many of your business, community and political leaders have devoted so much energy to an attempt to mislead you about Colin Kaepernick. Maybe you disagree with his form of protest, but you can’t ignore the fact that a great many of our active military personnel and vets do agree with him, or at least support his right to protest in this way. We Americans have a long history of disagreeing with each other, so this isn’t cause for alarm.

And for those among you – and there are a huge number who fit in this category – arguing that he should protest in a less “offensive” way, I’d ask a couple questions. First, don’t you think donating more than a million dollars to community charities is a pretty positive form of protest? And second, can you give me an example of a form of protest that was okay with the establishment that actually worked?

You have to give the man credit for one thing, regardless. We like to say, sometimes, that we respect those who stand up for what they believe or who “say what’s on their minds,” don’t we? Well, Colin Kaepernick believed strongly enough in justice that he sacrificed his career. He is, by any objective measure, a better quarterback than several NFL starters (gods, I’d have killed to have him with the Broncos this year), and it’s nearly impossible to argue that he isn’t superior to nearly every backup in the league.

So why couldn’t he even get a tryout?

What do you care enough about that you’d give up your career for it?

I think we should speak frankly here. Colin Kaepernick saw an injustice and he was committed enough to it to give up his livelihood in an attempt to make a positive difference. He has been lied about and threatened, and his response has been to give more.

Justice. Fairness. Sacrifice. Service. Humility. Reminds me of how we Americans like to see ourselves.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2018, the staff of Scholars & Rogues is proud to install Colin Kaepernick as our latest masthead honoree. In the coming days, weeks, months and years it’s our hope more Americans can find a way to emulate his example.

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