Since the start of 2016, 16 NFL players have been arrested for a myriad of charges, ranging from DUI to assault. Of these, few, if any, have received widespread public attention and outcry. Instances of DUI, domestic abuse, assault and illegal marijuana possession, perhaps because of their relative prevalence in the NFL, seem to have lost their shock factor. NFL viewers have somehow been able to look past some of these heinous crimes as they cheer for their favorite teams but appear to be unable to do the same when Colin Kaepernick decides to exercise his constitutional right to free speech.
Kaepernick was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers. He earned a starting position on the team in 2012 when he filled in for an injured Alex Smith and subsequently led the team to a Super Bowl appearance. Since then, he has mostly maintained the position of starting quarterback for the 49ers — until now.
The entire saga began Aug. 26, when Kaepernick remained seated while the national anthem was played before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Keep in mind, it is not required by the league that players stand during the playing of the national anthem, it is merely encouraged. But even though Kaepernick had done nothing wrong, the public outcry was immense.
In subsequent games, Kaepernick was booed at every opportunity — from the second he entered the field to every time he broke a huddle. Signs were held by audience members brandishing messages that read “Stand up Kaepernick” and “Have you thanked a ‘vet’ lately? For your right to disrespect our flag.”
And it wasn’t just football fans who appeared to have visceral negative reactions to Kaepernick’s protest. In response, Donald Trump said, “I think it’s a terrible thing and maybe he should try and find a country that works better for him.”
NFL quarterback Drew Brees joined the conversation, too, saying, “There’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.”
Despite negative reactions, Kaepernick continued his silent protest — one that’s message is being drowned out by arguments about his patriotism. He has continually stated that his protest has nothing to do with his love for America but everything to do with the pathetic and disrespectful treatment of the Black community.
And one by one other athletes, veterans and even the president of the United States have come out saying that Kaepernick has every right to do what he’s doing — and that he has a legitimate point. Megan Rapinoe, a player on the U.S. women’s national soccer team, took a knee during the national anthem at a recent soccer game, saying, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”
Despite these voices of support, though, the overwhelming tide seems to flow in opposition to Kaepernick. But in a league filled with assault and DUI charges, why pick on the one man who is attempting to make a real statement rather than a grave mistake?
Blindness to our own nation’s flaws is not a new phenomenon, and it is definitely one at play in this situation, but there is also something else going on here. It seems as though there is a desire to be nationalistic without acknowledging or honoring the ideals that our nation stands for.
The national anthem is supposed to be a musical embodiment of the United States’ truest beliefs and principles — and what is more quintessentially American than the first amendment, which grants citizens the rights to freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly? Kaepernick, in protesting peacefully, is merely exercising his first amendment right — albeit in a more dramatic fashion than usual. And yet there are those who find it “deeply un-American.” If people cannot respect Kaepernick’s free speech, then there is no reason that they should be singing the anthem at all, for it stands for something that they have decided to rail against.
The most infamous example of Americans using the national anthem as a form of protest was during the 1968 Olympic Games when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the Black Power salute as “The Star Spangled Banner” played on. It was controversial at the time but will stand as one of the most important moments in protest history. Perhaps Kaepernick’s stand will similarly age well with time, once Americans realize the importance of embodying the tenets that we are supposed to stand for.