“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
― Elie Wiesel
Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose not to stand for the national anthem during an exhibition game. He gave a rational and profound reason for doing so. He broke no law. He exercised his 1st amendment right. He did not physically assault anyone. He did not murder anyone. And, as expected, white folks blew a gasket. They took to social media and eviscerated him with an antiquated savagery usually reserved for the worst of the worst in our society. His crime? Not standing for a silly song. Insanity. Four out of thousands of horrific tweets are below. It was a like a digital KKK meeting.
The connection between sporting events, nationalism, and the worship of all things military is baffling to me. We take our families to enjoy a day at the stadium and feast on nachos, hot dogs, and the physical prowess of our favorite players. We root root root for the home team. Or, in my case, the away team because I’m a rabid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Nationals. We indulge in over-priced beer with our friends. We escape the monotony of life by distracting ourselves with a dose of loyal, authentic fandom. The last thing on our minds should be empty, worthless gestures of patriotism. We shouldn’t be forced to take part in a ritual that has nothing to do with blasting home runs, tossing a touchdown, or eating popcorn and snow cones.
Standing for a song written by a massive racist slave owner, Francis Scott Key, might seem patriotic to a majority of folks. And those same folks probably have zero empathy for the plight of black Americans, how being oppressed for centuries impacts and changes your vision of this country and its customs, its white privileged patriotism. How exactly does a song show devotion to your country? How does standing up like a sheep highlight your respect for veterans? Ask yourself why you stand during the national anthem. Could it be you’ve been programmed since you were a child to stand at football games? Do you also play the anthem when you’re at home chilling on the couch? Do you play the anthem when you go to church? Do you play the anthem at a wedding? Do you play the anthem when you’re at work? No, but you must stand at a Bengals game on a lazy Sunday or you’re disrespecting veterans and your beloved USA. Please.
Colin Kaepernick is a courageous man. He said no to tradition. He said no to having senseless pride in a bigoted song. And why did he decide to protest?
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “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.”
He wanted to shine a spotlight on police brutality, the unjust treatment of blacks by those in positions of authority. If you read his quote and still think he was wrong, then shame on you. The racists love to say that black folks, especially the #BlackLivesMatter movement, are too violent when they protest. They burn cities to the ground! They assault innocent people! They loot! Well, Colin Kaepernick protested peacefully and quietly and white America still raged. It makes not a bit of sense.
I have respect for veterans. I understand and appreciate the service they’ve provided for our country. They fight and protect while I read and write. I would never question their bravery and character. But coercing us to honor them at sporting events is beyond the pale. If you truly want to show your pride and/or admiration, why not send a care package overseas to military personnel? Why not donate money and time to help veterans who struggle when they return home? Many suffer from PTSD and addiction, and some end up on the streets. Help them if you’re so concerned about saluting veterans. But no, folks would rather trash a football player than actually do something positive. Race, as always, plays a significant role in how we digest a situation and react to it. In 2016, we’re annihilating a man for the inspiring act of remaining true to his longstanding personal convictions. White folks hate when a black man/woman speaks out, especially when they also refuse to bleed red, white, and blue just because it’s some warped artificial tradition.
We are not obligated to do anything, we are a free people. Don’t walk with the herd, don’t drink from the community well. Voice your beliefs without being concerned with the opinions and ridicule of others. Veterans deserve respect, as do teachers, mental health workers, philosophers, scientists, artists, Colin Kaepernick, and so many others. There’s room on the pedestal for folks not wearing camouflage and medals.
Love your country and military with the entirety of your heart if that’s your thing. But don’t mock and denigrate others who may not share your fervor for a nation with a history steeped in rampant prejudice.