Not too long ago, Colin Kaepernick, the NFL star was the subject of much controversy. What he did sparked a lot of conversation, but we’ll tell you more about that in a moment.
A brief background
The NFL is that most American of sports. Baseball may be ‘the National Pastime’ but it has become cosmopolitan, with an influx of Central American and Asian stars.
In contrast, the American Football remains mostly American. In the heartlands of the United States, American Football is basically a religion. The players, even at high school level, are demigods. Small towns across America have their greatest moment when they make it to the final of the State Championship.
Most of these players are Americans. The NFL itself is mostly American with a few foreigners who possibly have the specialised skills needed to be a pro-footballer e.g. soccer players from Europe coming to be the kickers due to their superior kicking ability.
As the new NFL season draws ever closer, teams have been playing pre-season exhibition games to tune up and prepare for the start of the season on September 9.
In San Francisco, the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick caused a bigger stir than you would expect from a pre-season game when he sat down for the National anthem. He did this because he said he did not want to show pride to a country that ‘oppresses black people and people of colour.’
Kaepernick who is biracial himself, did not stand at attention when the United States National Anthem was played pre-game. For those who don’t know or care, the American anthem is basically sacred to most people in that country; witness the attacks on the formerly-loved gymnast Gabby Douglas at the Olympics in Rio this year…and all she did was not place her hands on her chest and maybe squeeze out a few enraptured tears.
I once witnessed a pretty irreverent, rational friend, stand up in respectful silence when the National Anthem was played.
Anger at ‘unpatriotic’ Kaepernick
So you can imagine the reaction was very considered at his protest.
Twitter was of course, afire, these were some of the more printable, literate ones.
Because outright condemning Kaepernick would make them racist, they’ve decided to take the mealy mouthed path of saying, ‘we stand at the national anthem to honour those who have fought for and given us the freedom to sit at the national anthem’, or something pseudo-poetic like that.
This is disingenuous. First of all, even those serving in the military are human. A lot of them don’t do it because of some huge sense of patriotism, but because the military is a way out of their crappy lives or a chance to eventually pay for university, or gain useful skills.
Getting over formality
I spoke to one former active member of the armed forces who served in Iraq and she told me that “when it was time to bring the flag down at the end of the day (retreat ceremony), most of us would run and hide in a building and pretend we didn’t hear the notes of the retreat because otherwise you’d have to go stand out in formation and salute. Just formality people were generally over.”
To be fair to the NFL and indeed Kaepernick’s team, the 49ers, neither have outright sanctioned him. It would be a bit hypocritical if they did. If there is a history of giving to military or veteran’s charities from either, then it needs to be better promoted, as I couldn’t really find anything about it. If anything, the NFL received nearly $7 million dollars in payments from the Department of Defence for ‘Patriotic Displays’.
I bet a lot of the people who are chastising Kaepernick have never even thought about volunteering either their time or money to any military support organisation. In January 2014, there were nearly 50000 homeless veterans. Many of the chastisers probably walked past them or looked at them in disgust before hastily moving on with their lives. Hell, veterans, some suffering from PTSD have been victims of the same police brutality that Kaepernick is protesting.
Support for Kaepernick
Kaepernick did have some supporters too in those early days, mostly from the African American players, but the fact is, this is not the first time an athlete has protested much to the annoyance of those who think they should just remain quiet and play their sport and those who have fooled themselves into thinking they are not racist and don’t understand the big deal or why their highly-paid black athletes should care about this issue.
Since then more people have come out, including a group called Veterans for Kaepernick. They say that they fought for his right to protest the National Anthem. The hashtag Veterans for Kaep has also been trending steadily over the past week.
Kaepernick’s initial protest involved him sitting down but on Thursday he knelt during the national anthem. He also pledged to give 1 million dollars to various community charities. Meanwhile, one of his teammates, Eric Reid and another player Jeremy Lane who plays for the Seattle Seahawks joined Kapernick in protesting.
Kaepernick may be cut and released from the team, not because of his actions but because he has declined as a player over the past few seasons. Whatever happens next, he should be applauded, not chastised for this brave decision. It has definitely uncovered a festering wound in America, now it’s time to start the care and the healing.