At a preseason game, quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers caused controversy by staying seated during the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said.
As expected, Kaepernick was met with opposition, but had supporters as well. Some accused him of being unpatriotic and said his action insulted the military, but many veterans disagreed. #VeteransforKaepernick started trending on Twitter and retired soldiers expressed their support for Kaepernick. Army vet Charles Clymer tweeted, “Do not use my service “” or that of any veteran “” to justify the silencing of black Americans. Not on my watch.”
Kaepernick has made it clear that he is not trying to disrespect America or its veterans.”I’m not anti-American,” Kaepernick said at a press conference. “The message is that we have a lot of issues in this country that we need to deal with.”
Prominent athletes have a long history of taking stands on socio-political issues. In the 1968 Olympic Games, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists doing the Black Power salute during the national anthem after they won gold and bronze, respectively. Their raised fists brought attention to racial injustice present in the U.S. at that time. Though they were representing their country and treated equally in the Olympic Village with other American athletes, back in the U.S. they were still facing discrimination and fighting for racial equality.
Just earlier this year, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul made a speech at the ESPYs on similar issues. They called attention to racial profiling and police violence, with James ending the speech, “We have to do better.”
Also calling attention to police brutality, the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury WNBA teams wore #BlackLivesMatter warmup shirts back in July.
Protests are nothing new for people of color, especially black Americans. We’ve seen marches and silent protests against police brutality for years and have read in history books the protest of segregation. What’s similar throughout the course of American history is the response to these protests by white people.
Hub Arkush, editor of Pro Football Weekly, said Kaepernick should be lucky he’s in the position he’s in; Donald Trump said that Kaepernick can find another country that “works better for him.”
Kaepernick shared a tweet by @LeftSentThis criticizing this view: “If a black athlete or entertainer says something political along the lines of “˜I support the troops’…America LOVES it…But let a black athlete or entertainer say ANYTHING hinting towards the horror that Black folks experience in America…America don’t love you no more.”
I think it’s brave of Kaepernick and other prominent figures to use their platform to bring awareness to issues that are swept aside by many. When athletes and celebrities choose to voice their opinions on social matters, it doesn’t define their athleticism. It defines their character.
Kaepernick is also getting involved. He’s donating the first million dollars he makes this season to underprivileged communities.
“I have to help these communities. It’s not right that they’re not put in the position to succeed or given those opportunities to success,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish of me to look the other way.”
ESPN reports more Kaepernick jerseys in the past week than over the last eight months. His message is garnering attention and support. Athletes can play the sport they love and possibly cause real change. If they aren’t taking advantage of their celebrity, what use is it?