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Why I Don’t Agree with Colin Kaepernick, but Support that You Do

Why I Don’t Agree with Colin Kaepernick, but Support that You Do
Why I Support Kaep, but Probably Not Your Opinion of His Protest

Colin Kaepernick helmet off

Last week 49’ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines in choosing to sit down rather than stand for the national anthem.  The story has dominated the recent news cycle and social media with strong opinions on all sides.  It is an issue that hits on the nature and message of a protest, custom vs regulation, and even the latent racism that remains in the fabric of our national songs and documents.  To me as a sociologist, all that discussion makes the protest positive and productive, especially given its peaceful nature.  But from the beginning I’ve been in disagreement with Kaep and many of his supporters for a few specific reasons.  Before I explain why, though, a quick statement of my principals:

I DON’T believe he should be fired, benched, or otherwise punished for taking this or any political stand.

I DO believe it’s right and fair for anyone who disagrees with his stance to express their disagreement, anger, and/or offense, and note that that offense is not necessarily derived from a support for the racist structures against which he’s protesting.

I DO think it’s ridiculous that folks inside the NFL (owners, et al) are denouncing Kaepernick so strongly when they regularly, warmly welcome back domestic abusers and other criminals.

I DO believe he should probably be cut because he’s bad at football. (Inexplicably, really.  I mean, he once looked to be the face of the franchise for the next decade… but I digress…)

I DON’T agree with and, in fact, can’t stand the plethora of memes saying something to the effect of “Cops kill people every day no one bats an eye, one quarterback sits down and everyone loses their minds”.  People all over our country HAVE been talking about, paying attention to, protesting, and debating the scourge of police brutality.  Whether any meaningful change has yet been made is subject to debate (spoiler: it hasn’t), but claiming that no one gives a shit would be pretty hard to factually substantiate.  Also, he’s a celebrity in one of the most popular forms of entertainment in our nation and we’re Americans – we’re going to over-talk the actions of our celebrities.

This is not to say that racial inequality is an issue of the past and that Kaepernick’s protest is ill-founded.  It is also not to say that because he is a multi-millionaire athlete he has no ground to speak on oppression.  I actually believe there are far too few Kaeps out there willing to use their elevated platform to speak on important issues.

No, I have two contentions with Kaep’s protest and the first is this:

it is an act of disrespect that many folks would like to pretend is something less.  It is custom, certainly not law or other regulation, that dictates we stand during our national anthem (or that of any other country, as we were recently reminded with the Rio Olympics), expressing our love for the country that has given us (at least in theory) an environment of freedom and prosperity and expressing our respect for those that have dedicated their life to protecting those notions and values.  But it being custom only does not make adherence or ignorance of it mean less.  Not standing is not a passive move as many a meme would want us to believe.  Yes, it is entirely his right and his choice.  Anyone debating those points is off-base.  But it was also an intentional and principally loud statement, to which many, especially servicemen and women, take strong offense.  And yes, I’ve seen the #VeteranswithKaepernick, I know they exist.  But that still says nothing about the many (and I’ve heard from many) who are indeed angry and offended.  It’s not jingoistic rhetoric.

Colin Kaepernick at press conferenceBut that alone is not the issue.  I have no problem with Kaepernick making an incendiary and disrespectful statement as a form of protest.  But acting like it is something less than that, pretending that Kaepernick’s was not a direct affront is us on the Left wanting to have our cake and eat it too.  We want our heroes to take strong stances but ‘America does not deserve my respect’ is too sharp a statement for some so we try to soften and curve the edges.  Which makes my issue with Kaep’s stance really an issue with a portion of his supporters, the Facebook philosophers who achieve righteousness through repetition.  They believe a protest against one evil is a stance against all evils.

This brings me to my second issue with Kaep’s protest: in my opinion, it seems empty.  Given that the offense is not directed at the police departments whose brutality would seem to be the center of his protest, in my opinion his choice seems misdirected and, frankly, vague.  Which of our many problems must be fixed and how for the QB to regain respect for his home country?  Or is that simply impossible?  Is it the racial disparity of police brutality that he’s specifically fighting against or racial inequality as a whole?

One additional point: in my opinion, saying that Kaep was right not to stand because the national anthem is, y’know, kinda racist anyway is simply clouding the issue.’s article is certainly not the first public discovery and denunciation of the song but few of us have ever heard of the movement against the anthem which has grown in passion over the last week due to its reference in the third verse about slaves whom the British hired to fight on their side in exchange for their freedom:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave..”. 

Eliminating indoctrinated racism and other sanctioned oppression is a noble and worthwhile pursuit and if folks feel strongly about changing the national anthem to something more inclusive I think that is a worthy conversation to be had.  But that’s not what Kaepernick was protesting.

We are a nation founded on the oppression and pillage of other peoples and the process of shedding that bigoted skin often seems stagnant.   I’ve not yet seen us, though, selectively eliminating the works of our slave-owning, bigoted Founding Fathers based on that context.  Perhaps Francis Scott Key was as vile an individual as the brave and eloquent Shaun King has extolled, but that alone doesn’t make the song he wrote worthless.  So much of what we have in this country was designed and built by bigoted men.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like living here, or that I wish they hadn’t created it, and that their works are nullified by personal stances that I hope a 1700’s version of myself would find reprehensible (but who’s to know?).  I’m not much one for advocating tearing at the walls until you have some plan what you want to build in their wake.

And just for reference, freed slaves fighting for the British in the War of 1812 was not out of some noble notion of humanity, it was military strategy.  England didn’t outlaw slavery until 1833.

I think Kaep’s protest and the ensuing dialogue this week speaks more to me about us on the political Left than it does about those on the Right clamoring for Kaep to be fired (or worse) based on taking a sociopolitical stance.  As I said above, those folks are off-base.  It is both his lawful right and ethical choice and any discussion we have on the matter concerns only our opinions of his action and nothing more.  But there are those of us on the Left who believe that in times of injustice any action is the right action, that simply calling attention to a problem is sufficient.  In these times, when the “good old days” crowd is rising in volume, I don’t think that’s enough.  If we want to make the move from Twitter liberals to real progressives, I believe we need to start being more clear what we’re fighting against and what we want to build after we’ve torn down the old, bigoted, white-only systems.  Shaun is pretty clear, and others are with him, about wanting a new national anthem.  That is a concise and tangible goal in the battle for greater equality and inclusion, albeit perhaps difficult to achieve. Anybody got any ideas (no Kanye or Kenny Chesney please)?  Who wants to take up that process or do we just hope that someone in the government we definitively don’t trust is just going to handle it?

The ardent liberal in me supports Kaepernick’s protest, encouraged by someone with spotlight status putting the national dialogue about racial inequality and oppression on an elevated platform.  But I also think there are too many of us who want to burn without building, decry problems without solutions, and rally just as quickly into ideologue camps as our narrow-minded opponents on the Right.  The statement made by Kaep’s protest is, “America is not deserving of my respect, at least not right now” and if we’re going to discuss that statement let’s do so without shying away from its harsh truth and with a focus on how we collectively create something better.

Now that we’ve all talked about it, Colin, what comes next?

5 Comments on Why I Don’t Agree with Colin Kaepernick, but Support that You Do

  1. I definitely understand what you’re saying but let’s look at it this way, every time we have one of those traumatic experiences it gains traction and is on everyone’s mind and tongues for roughly a week, 2 tops, then it’s back to the status quo. By Colin taking a stand, lol, against the issue in general he keeps it on people’s minds and tongues. How can we be heard if atrocities against us keep getting forgotten after a matter of days? Most don’t know that he had been sitting out the anthem for the ENTIRE preseason it just so happened that the 4th was noticed by someone. It’s tradition but that doesn’t make it blasphemous not to do, was there a write up about Donald Trump not one time placing a hand over his chest during the debates? Is that not also tradition? The American dream has never really applied to POC, there are many glaring examples of this from actions to the arts to language people pay little attention, like the national anthem. Did you know this song was written after Francis suffered a humiliating loss in battle to a group of mostly slaves? Does that, coupled with the language used in the song, strike any one as a man who was trying to give all people inspiration, or does it sound exactly what it’s meant to be…. bigotry? You made valid points based on hiw YOU view the situation but that’s a limited view, you want people of color to whole heartedly embody a song that was never meant to include free blacks simply because it’s tradition? À

    • James, firstly, thanks for reading and lending your opinion. Both are truly appreciated. I agree that the main idea is to keep attention focused on issues that are indeed crucial and are easily lost in quickly-changing and/or intentionally distracting news cycles. I have two contentions, though: 1. Just because it’s tradition doesn’t lessen the intended disrespect in the statement. And no, it’s not the same as Trump (or Gabby Douglas in Rio) standing at attention without their hand over their hearts, neither of those was intended to make any statement. 2. Racial inequality and oppression, both on personal and institutional levels, are real realities in our nation but it’s the idea of this not ever truly being POC’s America or that the American Dream never applied to POC to be both central to this protest and so hard to swallow. It seems made to soften the statement by effectively saying, ‘It’s not that disrespectful given that this is not truly our America and it never respected us’. Again, I’m a white male, this is not a claim to understand an experience that I will never undertake. But in a country where a POC who was born poor is our President, and where there are many shining examples of success from POC in business, entertainment, and many other industries, though certainly faced with an added obstacles and an uneven field, the claim that the American Dream simply doesn’t apply to POC is not one I can understand. To your final point, I want POC (and all people) to do and say whatever they feel is right, I make no assertions about what they should do. The “We the People” of the U.S. Constitution was never meant to include free blacks either but when you appeal to its highest ideals it obviously and most certainly does apply to all.

      • You can’t use our CIC as a basis to your argument, there are a lot of shining examples of successful POC but those are anomalies compared to the black community as a whole. Segregation and Jim Crow aren’t that old in our society my parents were amongst the first group of desegregated students and obtaining the right to vote. The fact that people think it’s soooo disrespectful to not stand for the anthem because it represents America but fail to have the same outrage over Lotche pulling the stunt he did, when he was their representing the same country or Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric in general or most importantly the reason Kaepernick is protesting makes them part of the problem. They may not be bigots but what really makes them any better when they stay quiet about these type of issues. I don’t really recall any articles on here about all the turbulent times we’ve been facing when POC are the victims, but low and behold we have one on here when one of us finds a peaceful way to protest and keep the conversation going strong about race relations. Like you said you’re not a POC so his reasoning means absolutely nothing to you and you’re quick to dismiss it and focus on how that man chooses to have his voice heard. You couldve done so much with this platform in regards to his stance but took the easy way out, at best this article should have been no more than a tweet because we’ve been hearing this tired ass rhetoric for numerous years now.

        • James, you’re wrong to think that because I am white his reasoning and/or his protest mean nothing to me. I’ll not delve into personal history, but matters of race have been central in my life since I was a kid and my disagreement with Kaepernick in no way stems from a belief that that fight is not important. I don’t believe I took the easy way out with this article. Many close to me were surprised by my stance and, in fact, the easy way out for me would have been a piece blindly lending my support. I found it more difficult to truthfully uncover what I felt about this issue and my final litmus test remains this: I want to support Kaep in his fight, I think racial equality and oppression especially at the hands of the police are some of the most important issues of our time, but I can’t see myself joining his protest by sitting down during the anthem. And I don’t feel encouraged by the idea of more players and/or fans joining in. That is what tells how I truly feel about it and what drove my desire to pen this piece. I’m sorry you found little of value in it (Tweet-length only) but I don’t feel the contentions I offered were tired or rhetorical. So much of our present national dialogue is, in fact, filled with rhetoric, from all political and social sides. It is far easier to share a slanted meme in support or protest of an issue than to explore and express our honest (and possibly more complicated) beliefs.
          Our writing here at the blog over the last year has fallen off in volume for a variety of reasons, especially in regards to social and political issues. But here are a few past pieces of mine that express my opinions on race, police brutality, Trump, and other important issues:

          Again, thanks for reading and engaging.

  2. BTW, Lime on bruh. Just because we will never see eye to eye on this issue doesn’t mean I don’t support what you guys do with this blog, and it’s not just because Ivan is my homie.

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