If you’re one of the people calling for Colin Kaepernick to be fired for not standing up during the playing of the National Anthem, then Colin Kaepernick is more patriotic than you are.
Some of you will stop reading right there, and immediately post a rant about how un-American he is and how he needs to leave this country if he doesn’t love it. You might call for Kaepernick to be punished with the loss of his career as the San Francisco 49ers quarterback and feel justified that trying to take away a person’s livelihood is “patriotic” and the right thing to do simply because Kaepernick has taken a stand that doesn’t agree with your own beliefs. In other words, some will completely miss the point that his protest is part of the freedoms that make this country what it is today.
I would say Colin Kaepernick’s protest is part of “what makes this country great,” but apparently it isn’t so great, according to GOP nominee Donald Trump, who wants to “make America great again.” But that’s a whole other story and not the issue here. The issue here is freedom of speech and what constitutes being “patriotic.”
If one offends you but the other doesn’t, reevaluate your life pic.twitter.com/2JrbDsN5dJ
— steve (@SAS0620) August 31, 2016
People like to throw around the term “First Amendment rights” whenever they say something that others disagree with, which is the part of the Constitution that guarantees our freedom of speech. There are certain limits on that, but only in the case where words can actually cause harm, such as the standard example of someone yelling “fire!” in a theater were no fire exists, potentially causing a stampede that could injure or kill people. Or a more recent example would be someone implying that if their opponent is elected, people should exercise their gun rights. But that’s a whole other story and not the issue here.
This is about an athlete who has the visibility and a public platform to make a statement about a great social injustice. Whether or not you agree that there is a social injustice is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Kaepernick believes that widespread racism and discrimination against people of color still exists, and he is determined to stand up (or sit down as it were) and express his beliefs to try to draw attention to the problem.
This is nothing new, as there’s been great controversy over things like Beyoncé’s “Formation,” but one distinction that’s worth noting is that while movie stars or musicians gain from any kind of publicity, Colin Kaepernick really has nothing to gain by taking a stand. That’s not to say that Beyoncé isn’t committed to speaking out against racial injustice or that she hasn’t suffered consequences for it, but Kaepernick most likely realized his decision not to stand for the National Anthem would have a negative impact on his career and cause a huge public outcry.
He did it anyway.
What Kaepernick did was very brave, and in fact, it was the very definition of patriotism. Why? Because true patriots have an obligation to stand up for what they believe is right, even if it causes them harm. They have a moral obligation to speak out against injustices and do everything in their power to make this country a better place. Kaepernick is taking a stand to try to make things better for this country, and for humanity as a whole. This is why his actions are absolutely patriotic.
On the other hand, those who try to suppress Kaepernick’s right to protest are contradicting the very tenet of freedom this country is based on. The basic principle of democracy that allows freedom of speech holds that because democracy is the best form of government and gives people the most freedom, it can stand up to criticism and those who protest against our government and what is happening in this country.
Many people are chiming in to defend Kaepernick, but the demographic that seems to be coming to his defense the most, or at least the most publicly, are military veterans. Using the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, many military men and women are standing up for the quarterback.
Don’t use my service–or that of any veteran–to justify the silencing of black Americans. Not on my watch. #VeteransForKaepernick
— Charles Clymer (@cmclymer) August 31, 2016
— Charles Bassett (@CharlesBassett) August 31, 2016
— Marco (@BasedMarcoM) August 31, 2016
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also defended Kaepernick in an editorial for the Washington Post, and recalled similar cases in the past where athletes exercising their freedom of speech paid a great price.
“What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here.”
Will Kaepernick’s protests have any effect on the mass shootings of unarmed African-Americans by law enforcement or assist the Black Lives Matter movement? That remains to be seen, but the outpouring of support from veterans and others defending Kaepernick’s freedom of speech has created a whole new dialogue. Kaepernick and the veterans supporting him act as a reminder to stand up for your beliefs and to respect when others take a stand, even if they hold different beliefs than your own.
That is true freedom of speech. That is freedom, period.
While further protests against Kaepernick are inevitable, the arguments those are using against him could be turned around on them, as well. Which is to say, if you don’t like Colin Kaepernick’s right to sit down during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice, you might try moving to another country. Perhaps you might try North Korea?
[Photo by Jack Dempsey/AP Images]