It is the beginning of fall in the United States and that means the beginning of American professional football. Football is by far the most popular sport in the States – both professional and college. Kick off weekend occurred last week and as one might expect, big name players made headlines. But the largest headline was made by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his decision to sit, and now kneel, during the United States national anthem, which is routinely played before all sporting events here in America.
The last couple years in America have been marred by the deaths of African American males at the hands of law enforcement. Major cases have included the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore and the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. In turn, rogue individuals have turned the tables on law enforcement, including an ambush by a sniper in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Fingers have been pointed and the resulting actions only seem to perpetuate more force and violence by individuals on both sides of the line.
Kaepernick has decided that the United States flag represents freedom to him and in his words which I am paraphrasing, there is no longer freedom in America and social and racial inequality exists. Since the representation of the flag is no longer being met, Kaepernick no longer feels he needs to honor it. For a full explanation of his feelings, allow Kaepernick to explain in his own words. (Note: this video is long at 18 minutes but since I am going to present my opinion – it is only fair to present Kaepernick’s as well).
Colin Kaepernick (number 7) and teammate Eric Reid take a knee during the playing of the national anthem during a game on September 12, 2016 (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
So, when the American national anthem is played and the colors are presented, Kaepernick takes a seat or takes a knee. As one might expect, this has made national headlines and every Dick and Jane from every walk of life has come out to either bury or defend the quarterback. Some support has come from surprising corners as some members of the American military have supported Kaepernick and his actions. Others have questioned his motives and wonder if this is some sort of ploy to be traded to another team. (Kaepernick recently lost his starting job) Some players have taken notice and also opted to sit or kneel during the anthem. Some African American players have opted to stand but place a fist in the air. Even entire teams have gotten into the act. The Seattle Seahawks, noted arch rival of the San Francisco 49ers, decided last weekend they would stand in unity with arms interlocked during the anthem. The Pittsburgh Steelers opted to have all members of their team stand as one of their players, Alejandro Villanueva, is a captain in the United States Army, an Army Ranger, and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. The entire Washington Redskins team left the sidelines to assist military personnel in holding a giant United States flag during the anthem. In contrast, almost an entire high school team in New Jersey knelt during the anthem.
Members of the Seattle Seahawks stand with arms interlocked in a sign of unity during the playing of the American national anthem before their game on September 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
So let’s break this down.
Kaepernick is right. There is racial and social inequality in America. Hell, it is everywhere and has been. Does this excuse the behavior? Of course not. If you watched the video above, whether you feel his actions are merited or misguided, Kaepernick has given a lot of thought to his actions. One has to wonder whether others have as much or merely created a copy cat effect.
The sweet irony of this entire situation is that the very flag Kaepernick has decided not to honor, has granted him the freedom to be able to pursue his feelings and show case them in his demonstration. And he is certainly within his right to do so. Kaepernick has demonstrated peacefully, which he is allowed to do under the first amendment of the American Constitution. This is in stark contrast to the many demonstrations we have seen recently that have ended in violence. Ironic, since these demonstrations are protesting against violence.
Members of the Washington Redskins assist military personnel in holding the American flag during the playing of the American national anthem before a game on September 12, 2016 (Twitter)
Kaepernick is a celebrity and he has a voice and a podium. One has to wonder, though, if he truly wanted to try and elicit change, why would he not take more of an active approach rather than a passive one? Why would he not use his voice and celebrity to go into the communities and create awareness and education through discussion? Maybe he is. I am not certain but I haven’t heard of it. Yes, he recently made a pledge to donate one million dollars of his own money to charities that seek to improve their community. This is certainly very generous and commendable under any circumstances.
Kaepernick is certainly entitled to his opinion and his ability to speak it without fear of being arrested or harmed. Again, the irony that this right is guaranteed under the flag.
So no one disagrees there is racial and social inequalities in the States. No one disagrees there needs to be change. The real question here is the method and ultimately, the flag. Individuals are seeking to determine what the American flag represents to them and this is where the disagreements occur.
For me, the American flag represents a collection of ideas – freedom, courage, bravey, honor, integrity, hard work, trust, faith, and valor. Does everyone in this country exude that? Of course not. But I believe in the ideals of this country and what it was founded on. And I believe in the blood that was spilled by those that worked to build and defend this country. And that’s where I differ from Kaepernick. I agree with his assessment but disagree with his medium. I can’t turn my back on those that died, including my own grandfather, who I have written about many times. I can’t turn my back on those ideas. I accept things are not perfect but it doesn’t mean I accept the behavior. I also work to try and change things. I don’t have the celebrity Kaepernick does or the reach his voice does but I do believe in the ripple effect. I can make changes in my own area with those I interact with and attempt to influence them to be better. But I can’t hope. Hoping leads to idle hands. And hoping things improve equals nothing.
Pittsburgh Steelers Tackle Alejandro Villanueva (Image: Philadelphia Eagles)
For those characteristics I listed – freedom, courage, bravey, honor, integrity, hard work, trust, faith, and valor – I will stand for the flag and I will honor it for this is what it means to me. I will honor the blood that was spilled. I will honor the memory of those that served and died. I will not excuse the behavior of many that violate these ideas nor will I turn a blind eye but I will not let the actions of few destroy my faith in many.
What does the American flag mean to you, and if you are not American, what does your country’s national anthem and flag represent to you?
Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia