Current quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick has drawn the ire of U.S. nationalists everywhere for his principled decision to stay seated during the playing of the National Anthem before his team played the Green Bay Packers on Friday night. By choosing to remain seated, the 28 year old was taking a stand against the police brutality against Black people and other people of color in the United States that is so prevalent, and he stated as much when asked about it afterwards. Predictably, American nationalists (aka ‘patriots’) of all ideological stripes have been swift to condemn him, calling for his immediate firing and demanding he pack his bags and leave the country. Most ominously of all, unnamed NFL executives have gone so far as to declare to the Bleacher Report that Kaepernick will never again have a career in sports due to his position. One executive stated that “90 to 95 percent of NFL front offices have blacklisted Kaepernick.” Another said that he didn’t want the quarterback anywhere near his team because “he’s a traitor” who “has no respect for our country.” “Fuck that guy,” said another. The executives insisted that Kaepernick is currently more hated in the NFL than Rae Carruth, who was convicted and imprisoned on conspiracy to commit murder of his pregnant girlfriend back in 2001.
Why would someone voluntarily take what on the surface appears to be a simple and harmless act – sitting down during the national anthem – when they know that doing so will likely result in their losing out on million-dollar contracts and endorsement deals in the future? The answer, according to Kaepernick, was that he was following his conscience. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” said Kaepernick.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people who are oppressed…
If they take my football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
A few days later he elaborated once more:
“There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change. There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher.”
Surprisingly, someone who wasn’t keen to jump on the bandwagon of hating Colin Kaepernick is 49ers coach Chip Kelly, who let’s just say is no stranger to controversy when it comes to racially disparate treatment of athletes on the field and off. Kelly says he respects Kaepernick’s right to his beliefs. Others, particularly those in conservative media, haven’t been so kind. First to express their outrage were the white racists of course. The feigned concern about the dangers of encroaching “political correctness” having been apparently thrown out the window with Kaepernick’s action, these fanatical nationalist patriots set the 49er’s jersey on fire and yelled for the athlete to “get the fuck out” of “our country” if he doesn’t love it. “You should never play another down in the NFL,” said one former “fan”. “Move to Canada,” he said. A host on a conservative cable network who shot to fame earlier this year for going on a racist rant about Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance said Kaepernick should “leave the country” if he didn’t appreciate it, saying he was a spoiled “cocky child.” Donald Trump, who never misses a beat when it comes to drumming up sentiments of American “exceptionalism”, echoed those sentiments. Other people logged on to Twitter to tweet “a picture of a wounded veteran holding himself up right in his wheelchair to the anthem, despite not having any legs.” This was nothing more than an obvious attempt to shame Kaepernick into conforming to patriotic ignorance. And while it’s true that the veteran in the image isn’t able to stand for the anthem as he would like, it’s also true that Oscar Grant, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and many others aren’t able to sit down or stand up. Colin Kaepernick sat in solidarity with them, as Shaun King noted in his New York Daily News column. Someone has to.
Even more incomprehensible than the obvious bigots in right-wing circles are some of the comments made by Kaepernick’s peers in the NFL. Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants, said everyone should always salute the flag no matter what, regardless of “circumstances in the U.S. or beyond.” “You’ve got to respect the flag,” he insisted, “and you’ve got to stand up with your teammates. It’s bigger than just you, in my opinion.” Apparently he didn’t listen to a word Kaepernick said, as he clearly stated who he was making his stand for, and it wasn’t just for himself. Then there was Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan who stated, “You’ve got to look at the gifts that we have, the opportunity that we have to play a great game is through the men and women that serve our country” in uniform. Apparently coach Ryan wants us to believe that without members of the U.S. military operating in foreign bases all across the globe, invading countries and causing bloodshed, American football players would not be able to “play a great game.”
After the white racists collectively lost their shit, it was time for “respectable” people of color to lecture Kaepernick on the “socially acceptable” forms of protest. Jerry Rice was first up to bat, countering Kaepernick’s recognition of Black humanity with “all lives matter”, the condescending mantra that gets repeated every time someone insists that Black lives ought to matter in this country. Then there was former NFL player Rodney Harrison who told the media that Colin Kaepernick’s opinion is irrelevant because he “isn’t a black man”, a theme that has also been circulating in conservative media circles which refer to Kaepernick as a “half-white” football player who’s made millions of dollars and therefore has no idea what oppression is. (I’m not going to link to these conservative media sites because I don’t want to be responsible for driving any traffic to them.) Apparently it never occurred to any of them that Kaepernick could be fully white (which he isn’t) and paid a six or seven figure salary and still choose to stand on the side of oppressed peoples anywhere in the world, including this country. Was John Brown wrong to oppose slavery because he wasn’t a slave?
Support for Kaepernick’s viewpoints, aside from Spike Lee and John Legend, came from an unexpected place – Black veterans of the U.S. military – who started a wildly popular hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick. According to these veterans, they resented people attempting to speak on their behalf when they claimed Kaepernick “disrespected” them by choosing not to rise for the National Anthem (a song which by the way celebrates the slaughter of Black people in a little-known 3rd verse). The Black Army Ranger the Independent Journal Review chose to seek out as spokesperson for Black veterans did not share their view however. According to this Army Ranger, Kaepernick went about protesting in the wrong way when he offended the sensibilities of people in this country and disrespected “the ideals that people of color have fought and died” for. There is no mention of the many valiant people of color who fought and died resisting the empire of genocide such as Geronimo, Bobby Hutton and Fred Hampton. The Ranger said Kaepernick’s point of view is “thin” because he is “reaping the benefits of a country that apparently oppresses people who look like him”, and went on to praise recent actions by Carmelo Anthony and Michael Jordan (who wrote a letter about BLM and police relations) as “more appropriate acts of protest.” Save it! This whole Bill Cosby ‘holier-than-thou’ politics of respectability crap was rightly frowned upon by Black revolutionary leaders like Malcolm X and Huey Newton. When you go out of your way to make sure no one takes umbrage at a show of resistance, it really defeats the whole point of making an act of protest in the first place. Far too many people are complacent with the horrific acts this country perpetrates against people all across the globe. Their consciences are not easily impacted by making them feel good about themselves and their country’s genocidal horrors.
The army ranger went on to offer suggestions of “more appropriate” ways to protest. He says Kaepernick should “write his congressman”, “petition” (as if members of Congress actually listen to the voices of their constituents as opposed to oligarchs and police unions), and “join the service and actually fight for the rights he seems to think are not offered to him.” This last suggestion makes absolutely no sense. How could fighting a foreign “enemy” overseas somehow achieve rights that are perceivably denied at home? That theory has been put to the test time and again, and it has yet to succeed in anything other than distracting from the denial of rights on the domestic front. As the great Muhammad Ali once said,
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother or some darker people or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big, powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father…
“If I’m going to die, I’ll die now right here fighting you. You’re my enemy. My enemy is the white people, not the Viet Cong or Chinese or Japanese. You’re my opposer when I want freedom. You’re my opposer when I want justice. You’re my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs, and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.”
The I.J.R.’s army ranger didn’t stop there however. He continued on his polemic, which has been shared on Facebook some 350,000+ times, berating Kaepernick, claiming the athlete’s “sitting through the National Anthem was a lazy lack of will and brain power.” This is grand, as if going to hurt people in a faraway land to preserve the most brutal empire the earth has ever known, one that brutalizes and over-incarcerates its own people, somehow requires a lot of “will and brain power.” In the closing paragraphs, the Ranger states that to protest symbols of U.S. hegemony is to “ignore the American principles that have given rise to extreme integration within a single American generation.” This “extreme integration” is largely a myth. But I digress. Back to the polemic: “My father was born without the right to vote and in one generation I’ve been blessed to lead amongst the world’s greatest fighting force.” Who ever knew that the ultimate goal of the Civil Rights and Black Freedom struggles was the opportunity to possibly kill and be killed in the service of empire? To leave no doubt that all of Kaepernick’s critics are reading from the same playbook, the Ranger ends by reminding us that Kaepernick is of mixed race and thus his “life is the personification of the ideals I see in the American flag and National Anthem; a biracial child, raised by white parents, and who has accomplished much despite his ‘oppression.’” So now being “raised by white parents” is “the personification of the ideals” represented in the American flag? Can someone tell me why it is we’re being told we have to salute this piece of cloth again?
It’s ironic that a nation that collectively mourned the passing of Muhammad Ali, with Senator Orrin Hatch of all people giving a speech at his funeral, chooses to ignore everything which that great athlete stood for all of his life. Aside from Ali there were John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City whose famous decision to raise their fist in a Black Power salute in solidarity with the oppressed Black people of the United States, as opposed to saluting the U.S. star spangled banner, is now celebrated as an iconic moment in history. Needless to say it was not considered so by outraged authoritarians and American patriots at the time. In other words, Colin Kaepernick is in great company and is following in a long line of Black athletes who weren’t afraid to use their platform to call attention to this country’s continuing failure to live up to its promise of equality for all. Certainly history will view him in a much different light than the nationalist fervor of the moment suggests.