Colin Kaepernick: Hero, traitor or visionary?

Photo by Michael Zagaris / San Francisco 49ers

Former starting NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick quickly became the center of discussion in America for the 2016 season and remains a hot topic to present day. However, it was not his play that captivated the hearts of the nation. It was a simple act that he executed prior to kickoff by kneeling during the National Anthem.

In a moment of unison and patriotism, Kaepernick decided not to stand as tradition calls for. Kaepernick’s act was put into question by the national media after consecutive weeks of choosing to kneel during the National Anthem. Kaepernick kneeled to shed light on police brutality of unarmed, innocent black citizens in America and inequality within the justice system.

Society and citizens quickly jumped to conclusions by what their eyes saw and refused to acknowledge or listen to what Kaepernick’s reason for kneeling was.

Kaepernick refused to stand for a country and flag that is meant to represent religious freedom and racial and gender equality but has failed to live up to those standards. Kaepernick’s view and stance stems from the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matters group rallied to protest against police brutality and the deaths of young, black men by police officers who were not held accountable for their actions.

Young black men and women are also mistreated in the court of law based on the color of their skin. White citizens who commit the same, or similar, crimes as black citizens receive a far less harsher sentence.

According to the United States Sentencing Commission, there is nearly a 20 percent difference in sentencing length for black citizens in America. Another report by Florida’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune found that black citizens were sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, as opposed to white citizens’ sentences which was for only two-and-a-half years for similar crimes.

Kaepernick was quickly vilified by the public and media for disrespecting the military, which is a misconception of the purpose behind his protest. Kaepernick protested peacefully to raise awareness of racial inequality that has been present and unfortunately remains present since the founding of America.

The narrative has always been “stick to sports” or that athletes are no more than a product of entertainment that we pay to consume. It is often lost that athletes are still people who have an individual voice that can speak for others without the platform of national sports.

A common argument is that Kaepernick and other athletes who have joined in protest make millions of dollars, so therefore they should stand for the flag. However, they are not kneeling for themselves, but for those who do not have the same exposure or coverage to advocate for justice.

Nevertheless, anger still exists. Kaepernick and other athletes will not stand to salute and honor America’s flag and that is unpatriotic in the eyes of the fans. However, the majority of NFL viewers are white men, who have not witnessed racial inequality unless they have benefitted from the racial divide.

The only thing that these fans believe is that Kaepernick does not respect the military and his protests are a slap in the face to America.

Perhaps those who are angered by these protests of inequality should look back upon America’s history and realize that this very nation was founded upon protest. America was tired of unfair treatment from Britain and decided to advocate for change.

The founding fathers of America declared that all citizens had a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, in 1776, those rights only applied to white, male property owners.

Women still did not have rights and African-Americans remained slaves with no rights. So despite this nation’s diplomatic and moral mindset of rights for all citizens, black citizens in America have been treated unfairly and unequally since the beginning. Kaepernick’s protest is only an extension of a call for justice.

Kaepernick’s movement started and continues to be about changing systemic racism. Citizens of color in America have been consistently marginalized at every turn in this nation’s history.

Servicemen of color fought in World War II only to return home to segregation. Jackie Robinson was shunned for being the first African-American baseball player and Martin Luther King was killed for a starting a movement that changed the social landscape of America.

African-Americans have been mistreated and opposed by white citizens for 200 years and racial inequality is still deeply embedded into this country’s fabric. Only in the past 50 years has this country began to peel back its ugly and oppressing layers to find what America was truly meant to stand for.

American military men and women have fought and died in protecting the freedoms of America, the biggest freedom being the freedom of speech. Two other statements in the First Amendment are the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government. Therefore, citizens who are upset with Kaepernick and fellow athletes for not respecting the military which allows them to have those rights is a complete contradiction. Kaepernick and his fellow athletes are exercising the exact rights for which the military servicemen and women died for.

Kaepernick’s reasoning behind the protest has been lost in anger and outrage over “disrespecting the flag.” Kaepernick even consulted Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret, about the protest and how to carefully go about carrying it out. Originally, Kaepernick was going to sit during the anthem, but after discussions with Boyer, he suggested that kneeling would be more respectful. Boyer compared the act to kneeling to a flag at half-mast after an American tragedy.

As for Kaepernick, he completed the 2016 season but was unable to land a job, even as a backup quarterback in the NFL for the 2017 season. His lack of a contract was not due to his ability on the football field, but rather due to his protest and the backlash it received from fans.

Kaepernick has received support from other athletes in major league sports too. LeBron James commended Kaepernick for sacrificing his professional career to create a better future in America. Bruce Maxwell, the Oakland Athletics’ catcher, kneeled during the anthem prior to the first pitch. Seattle Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe also knelt before her soccer match. Other NFL players for multiple teams also joined in kneeling during the anthem.

The NFL has been boycotted by fans due to the protests and the current White House Administration has been a driving force behind pushing that agenda. During the 2017 preseason, President Donald Trump, at one of his rallies, called on NFL owners and coaching staffs to fire any player who kneels during the anthem.

A majority of teammates for the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts chose to kneel as well during the National Anthem to show their support of Kaepernick.

Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance at a Colts game in his home state of Indiana but left before kickoff due to players kneeling. One NFL executive called Kaepernick a “traitor” and he also received death threats.

During his last playing season in 2016, Kaepernick pledged to donate a million dollars of his jersey proceeds for the season to organizations working in oppressed communities.

Kaepernick has chose to stay silent since the controversy drove him out of the league. He also filed a grievance in November of 2017 against the NFL for blackballing him out of an NFL job. Despite stepping out of the limelight, Kaepernick’s message continues on through other athletes and NFL players who agree with his stance.

The Seattle Seahawks had a workout setup with Kaepernick during the 2018 offseason, but the workout was cancelled after Kaepernick said he would continue to kneel if he was signed.

Patriotism comes in many forms, whether it be standing for the National Anthem and waving the flag or advocating for civil rights in a country where it is an inalienable right to have freedom of speech, whether it be literal or symbolic. Kaepernick only took advantage of his rights for which the military has armed him with and maximized his rights to its fullest potential.

Kaepernick is not a “thug” as some might suggest, but perhaps he is not a hero either. Kaepernick is a visionary. He knew the consequences and ramifications of his actions, but carried through with kneeling anyways.

He had the vision and foresight to acknowledge that a simple act of kneeling would spark a discussion that has been needed in America. Despite the fallacy of what his protest was viewed as, other athletes and those directly affected by systemic racism understand the true meaning for why he kneeled.

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