How can a backup quarterback break the internet during a pre-season football game? That’s simple: refuse to stand for the national anthem. That’s exactly what 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick did a few days ago. His reason? To bring attention to the fact that America has not reached its ideal because minorities are oppressed in America. He went on to defend his actions by saying he will continue to sit as long as such oppression is occurring. As you can probably predict, our hyper-sensitive and politically divided culture has been kicking at the goads ever since. For the third day in a row Kaepernick is trending on Facebook and Twitter. No one has a shortage of opinions about him, his actions, or his cause.
Is He Right?
Are minorities being oppressed in America? Do blacks have it harder than whites? Does Colin have a point? It depends on who you ask. I will say this, my friends who either have mixed race children or who have adopted minority children get treated differently than I do. They get the awkward stares and occasional rude comments. I will never have to worry about my white daughter being pulled over in a nice neighborhood for driving a nice car that she owns. I do know she has been stopped by police in the park for walking around with her mixed-race boyfriend. Does this equal oppression though? You may point out to me all the police shootings in recent months. I could counter that with more whites are shot by police than blacks, and that the vast majority (not all) of those shootings were considered justifiable. Is there systemic racism in our country? I believe there is, just like there is systemic sexism in our country. There are also many problems that are epidemic among black communities that aren’t as prolific among whites. A black child is more likely to be aborted in America than born. Let that sink in for a moment. Fatherless homes are another problem that too many black families have to deal with on a daily basis. Some blame poverty and a system that keeps blacks poor, but that would be evidence of even more systemic racism in our country. The bottom line is, Colin may have a point. I will even go so far as to say that he has every right under the first amendment to sit down during the national anthem. The same rights that protect my freedom to preach the gospel every Sunday protect his decision to sit. So why do I think he’s wrong?
The Wrong Way to Say It
Tact is an art form that is quickly disappearing in our culture. I had one elder define tact as “the ability to tell someone they are going to hell and have them thank you for saying it.” While Colin has a point to make, and he is well within his rights to do what he did, I think he’s making a mistake. I truly believe that his actions fall under the category of “just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do it.” Here are some reasons why.
- It promotes division, not unity. As soon as he refused to stand the lines in the sand were drawn. In a country torn apart by rhetoric and vitriolic speech, Kaepernick just threw fuel on the fire. There are some who will disagree with his actions no matter the reason he gives. And those emotions run deep, especially in families who have seen the flag-draped caskets of their loved ones. Colin may have gotten their attention, but he also turned them off to whatever message he had. On the other side of that coin are those who will defend his action because they feel the same way. But this is not going to bring anybody to the table. If anything it keeps them at arm-length away from a discussion that needs to take place.
- The action overshadows the cause. As I’ve already stated, there are some strong emotions on both sides of this issue. Again, all some are going to see is someone who is, in their view, disrespecting their flag and their country. Given how many veterans of all colors served under that flag, his reasoning is going to be lost because his actions have spoken volumes.
- Whether he intended it or not, he offended a great many people. America has always been a hyper-patriotic country. We love Fourth of July, Fireworks, and John Philips-Sousa. We just finished the Olympics where we saw athletes of all colors brought to tears by the playing of the Star-Spangled banner. We honor our veterans every fall and our fallen soldiers every spring. We love our country and have a hard time understanding when someone refuses to stand beside us, in a show of unity, and honors her with us.
- It ignores the progress we have made. America is a work in progress. 100 years ago there were the unjust Jim Crow laws. 200 years ago there was the dehumanizing practice of slavery. In the grand scope of history we are a young nation. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into abolishing slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and trying to live up to that phrase “all men are created equal.” Do we fall short sometimes? Unfortunately, yes. But it’s the ideal that we strive for, even in the face of persecution. Kaepernick’s actions fail to acknowledge this progress and this ideal.
- It sends a mixed signal. On the one hand Kaepernick says that America is supposed to be this place of equal opportunity. On the other he says we are failing to live up to that ideal. So which country is he protesting, the one that lifts up that ideal or the one that isn’t quite reaching it? I’ve got news for you, Colin, they are the same country. In addition, we’re never going to fully live up to the dream. Why? Because people are broken and imperfect, and this country is made up of millions of those imperfect people. There will always be racists. There will always be those who abuse power. The best we can do is strive for that ideal. If you won’t stand until utopia comes, then get used to sitting. And get used to people exercising their right to voice their disagreement with you.