Colin Kaepernick is Saying Things We’d Prefer not to Hear

The NFL preseason just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t watch the games, I don’t enjoy the highlights, and, unlike with some other sports, I just find it difficult to get invested in positional battles to see who will make the final roster. As we say in New England, “In Bill We Trust,” and in accordance with that mantra I trust Bill Belichick will field the best 45-man roster he can come early September.

But, try as I might to ignore the NFL’s preseason in its entirety (save an episode or two of Hard Knocks that always makes me bullish on a team that proceeds to go 5-11), there’s been the Colin Kaepernick story. Beneath the rock that has been preparing for a new school year coupled with preseason football being the last thing on my mind, the story still managed to find a way to me.

I have not read much about the controversy nor have I watched television coverage and analysis of Kaepernick’s decision. If precedence yields clues as to what happens in the future, I imagine he was rather widely condemned. I imagine he was portrayed as a primadonna, someone who is very unappreciative of a country that has given him the opportunity of a lifetime, someone who doesn’t deserve to don the very red, white, and blue he refuses to stand and acknowledge.

Kaepernick must’ve forgot the unwritten rule that our athletes, above all else, are supposed to be company men. On the field, make plays. After the game, talk the slightest bit of X’s and O’s and be sure to thank God. If you don’t, you’re a national news story.

Indeed, Arian Foster had to deal with a media circus for his public endorsement of atheism—a belief shared by millions of other Americans and, in the 21st century, what should be a complete nonstory. But again, our athletes should fall in line, and apparently this extends to their personal lives as well—I guess what they’d be doing on Sundays mornings if they weren’t prepping for a ball game.

What Kaepernick has done is of course a million times more unforgivable than Foster: it was public and it goes against the NFL’s entire brand. The NFL is all about jets flying over the stadium during the pregame festivities, when you’re at the game you applaud for a serviceman during every single commercial break, the game itself is important but the infomercial for the military comes a very close second.

It all feels pretty good, until you read this. Or this. I remember first reading about it all pretty extensively over at Deadspin, but I’m sure there are a ton of articles everywhere on it. Basically, the military was paying NFL teams millions of taxpayer dollars to put on all the fireworks and reunions and explosions. Which is well within the military’s right, mind you, they can spend their money allocated to recruitment how they please but it does undermine the NFL’s whole “We’re the most patriotic entity in the history of the planet!!!,” just a little bit.

So the NFL gets the PR that it doesn’t pay for, and a lot of people don’t know that. It’s kind of slimy, but it isn’t the end of the world. The military and the NFL are simply exchanging in a mutually beneficial exchange as everyone at one time or another does in life.

The reason that I bring up the NFL’s connection to the military is that I’m sure Colin Kaepernick is now being branded as anti-military for his gesture. How could he not appreciate the ultimate sacrifice that so many have made? The rationale of those who raise that criticism apparently being that it is mandatory to stand for the national anthem in order to prove that one is grateful for the troops and all they do to protect us.

This knee-jerk reaction is scary, because it undermines protest. Instead of the story being about the issues in our country that Kaepernick raises, it becomes about Kaepernick’s lack of patriotism, Kaepernick’s selfishness, Kaepernick’s, dare I say it, disregard for our troops.

In branding Kaepernick in this manner, we put words into his mouth that he has never spoken. Kaepernick appreciates the sacrifices of troops made across the country, including friends and family, obviously. The easier road for Kaepernick would be to do nothing when he sees an injustice before him, knowing full well that he’s a millionaire that will no longer face many of the obstacles of the black community. In the words of Daya, in refusing to sit still and look pretty, Kaepernick is taking a stand that will enrage large swathes of this country. He’ll be vilified, Bill O’Reilly will call him a pinhead, we know how this shit plays out.

It’s a shame because as a people we are capable of holding multiple suppositions at once, but when it comes to the flag it seems to go out the window and we are stripped of what could become a productive discourse. Kaepernick has used his platform as a sports star not to make the point that he is ungrateful for the life that America has afforded him, but rather that so many black children less fortunate than himself will never get a chance to reap the same benefits.

Colin Kaepernick could’ve perhaps made his intentions clear about why he would decide to sit during the national anthem—I guess to clarify that he doesn’t take our service men and women for granted. But maybe he gave us the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he thought that we wouldn’t try and attack him for being unpatriotic, when all he is asking for is a better America in the first place.

The true sign of patriotism, it would seem to me, is to show a willingness to criticize the things we don’t like about our nation so as to make it better for everyone. We should encourage those with a platform and a passion to make use of it.

Instead, Kaepernick, like Ali or Delgado before him, will be condemned. He’ll be accused of being unpatriotic, when in truth the only man who is the judge of that is oneself.

Eventually, Kaepernick will no longer have the platform he does now. If rumors are true, it could be sooner rather than later. The next Kaepernick will probably come about and launch a minor protest too, and he’ll be condemned, and more athletes will be discouraged from ever speaking up about anything of substance. After a while, athletes may just stop bothering altogether—it isn’t fun to get beat up by the American press.

The flag is complicated because the flag has been around for a lot. It has flown during liberations and it has flown during inhumane slaughter, times of progress and times of stagnation. It’s ludicrous to expect it to mean the same thing to everyone else.

Colin Kaepernick has asked why he should show pride for a flag that still stands for systemic racism. What’s our response?

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