Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem Friday. That song represents our nation – all the good, bad and great that it is. Yes, many have given their all to make certain the song still rings in our ears.
So, are we outraged the former Turlock resident showed disrespect for the song and, by extension, America?
No. Just disappointed. He has every right to make such a statement. Freedom of speech – one of the enduring values for which all patriots have died – is worthless if you can’t use it to say things the majority rejects. While we wish Kaepernick had found a different way to express his anger over the violence that too often flows from interactions between the police and the policed, he is within his rights. And he’s not alone – though few are rushing to his side.
Why should they? Other than a few tweets, Kaepernick has done little to stand against injustice. In contrast, NBA stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade called on all athletes to “use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources,” during last month’s ESPYs. Staying in your seat for two minutes isn’t the same.
That Kaepernick made his statement (don’t call it a stand) in the one venue where he was certain to be noticed makes sense. He wanted attention, and got it.
But is it the kind of attention a struggling player needs? We don’t think so, but Kaepernick walks his own path. He has inked treasured religious phrases across his body. He shows up for charity events he supports but usually eschews the press – communicating instead through social media. That might gain followers, but remaining seated during the anthem is going to cost him.
People are burning his jerseys; some want to boycott products he endorses. He will hear boos wherever he plays – if he continues to play. His performance wasn’t stellar last season or last Friday night. His career is anything but guaranteed; if the 49ers dismiss him, what team would invite such anger by signing him?
A redeeming value of sports is that it allows fans to set aside the usual divisions and cheer as one. Stand in a checkout line wearing a Giants hat and strangers will talk about a 13-run outburst. Wear a Fresno State T-shirt and hear echoes of “Go ’Dogs.’ ” Wear your favorite player’s jersey, and you’ll get thumbs up. Wear Kaepernick’s, and someone might set it on fire.
Kaepernick has helped raise $1 million for Camp Taylor, a free camp for children battling heart disease in Modesto. Perhaps his biggest smiles come when he poses for photos with those kids. It isn’t just about the money; he feels strongly about Camp Taylor. Just as he feels strongly about violence – but without any apparent commitment to meaningful action.
Sitting through our national anthem is a poor protest and clearly unpatriotic; but it’s not a crime. It’s not even un-American.