In week 10 of the 2012 NFL season, a young and inexperienced quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, checked into the game to replace the recently concussed Alex Smith. Kaepernick churned out a mediocre game and led the 49ers into a tie, an occurrence that the league had not seen in the previous 4 seasons. It would be an understatement to say this first game would be the only history that Kaepernick would make in his football career.
As Kaepernick was establishing himself as a prominent quarterback, the US began to experience an unprecedented amount of incidents pertaining to police brutality against black males. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and many others became the faces of this sudden and unfortunate trend in law enforcement. The story was all too familiar: a black male found himself in an encounter with an officer (or gun owner) and somehow ended up dead. This national problem was only exacerbated by questionable court decisions, violent post-riots, and social media. For Kaepernick, he had seen enough. On August 14, 2017, Kaepernick sat during the anthem for a preseason game. Initially, the first protest was not noticed until Kaepernick formally called attention to himself on August 28, prompting the nation to notice and form opinions. Kaepernick explained how he did not “want to show pride to a nation that oppresses people of color” and how that concept alone prevented him from standing during the anthem.
To provide context about Kaepernick’s protests, the truth about the NFL and its relation to the Department of Defense (DOD) should be explained. It was not until 2009 that the NFL changed their legislation regarding the anthem, then “encouraging” players to stand, when before, standing was not mandated, and some teams chose to stay in their locker rooms. In 2015, it was revealed that the DOD hashed out 5.4 million dollars to a number of NFL teams to coordinate “patriotic salutes.” If you have ever been to a football game, the short pauses in the match to recognize veterans, or even the choosing of military personnel to sing the anthem are all manufactured stunts hoping to increase recruitment rates.
As we all know, Kaepernick’s protest faced enormous national backlash. To start, many labeled the protest as disrespectful and out of place for an NFL athlete. A popular opinion was that a pampered, successful NFL player should not take any political stances, while others called the demonstration inconsiderate to the thousands of servicemen and women who risk their life daily. Even Alejandro Villanueva, a well-respected guard for the Steelers who is in the military, said “ I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down.”
Considering this backlash, it is important to remember that protesting is a constitutional right. People choose to silence Kaepernick due to his wealth and fame as he, as well as many other African-American athletes, is seen as “lucky” in the public eye. Society sees these successful black men and hopes to keep them in check by belittling their political views or rights as Americans. And for those who deem the protests “unpatriotic,” is it wrong for one to want a better future for their race, a better place for their kids? Ironically, Kaepernick’s actions are the most American because, though unpopular to some, they challenge the faults our society attempts to keep hidden. Kaepernick’s kneeling is a direct manifestation of what our servicemen and women fight for on a daily basis: the ability to stand up (or kneel) to our government.