Colin Kaepernick’s Anthem Protest And The History Of The National Anthem

Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest is gaining momentum. The 49ers’ quarterback raised some eyebrows with his silent protest, but many people still don’t know why Kaepernick is doing this. It seems strange to most Americans, though many do feel less than pleased with the direction of the country from time to time, sitting through the national anthem is pretty extreme, at least for some.

Could the history of the national anthem be behind Kaepernick’s protest? Or maybe Colin Kaepernick is disgruntled with something else? During the Vietnam war, during the racial unrest of the 1960s and during recent times of economic inequality, social inequality, racial inequality, and overall hardship, people at times become dissatisfied, either individually or as a group.

Colin Kaepernick’s anthem position is complex, but not unique. Kaepernick speaks of his own motivations. His words on ESPN may give illumination to the issue.

“Once again, I’m not anti-American. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from. Those conversations are important to have because the better we understand each other, the better we know each other, the better we can deal and communicate with each other which ultimately makes everyone, puts everybody in a better position.”

Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests will continue until Colin feels satisfied with changes that end racial oppression in the United States. But why did Kaepernick choose the national anthem? What exactly is wrong with “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key, well, other than the obvious difficulties in singing it?

The history of the national anthem definitely comes into play in this protest. Though few people are aware of it, the national anthem originally had three verses and the third one mentions slavery. More specifically it mentions unfavorably the slaves who joined the British army during the War of 1812 in order to gain their freedom. Francis Scott Key, the author of the song, is now considered racist for his lines in the third verse. Slavery did not originate in America, but it flourished on this continent and its surrounding islands for over two centuries. It was seldom questioned. Mr. Key was a slave owner.

Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest is directed toward the seldom questioned practices that societies and individuals fall into. Today the treatment of people of color is being called into question. Are black and brown people treated fairly in this country? Kaepernick doesn’t think so, and he is not alone.

The history of the national anthem is by nature one that glorifies battle and victory over oppression, while endorsing another oppression. One the people of that time chose to remain blind to. Is it the same today that the only people who recognize oppression are the ones impacted by it?

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Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest is an invitation to dialog, even though it is a silent protest. It is about taking a stand, even though at first Kaepernick was sitting, but now more respectfully, he is kneeling. Kaepernick really wants to have a conversation that is long overdue.

The history of the national anthem may have begun with Francis Scott Key who wrote it in the heat of battle, as he was held captive watching to see if his side had won or lost, but the history doesn’t stop there. “The Star Spangled Banner” has not always been the national anthem. It was only officially adopted in 1931, but long before then it was often featured at sports events. The tradition actually started in Brooklyn, New York, during the civil war era. Another tragic irony involving the song.

Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest isn’t something he personally invented. It has always been a part of being a black athlete in this country apparently. The late Jackie Robinson, beloved historic baseball player, said it plainly in 1972 when writing his autobiography depicting a career that went back to college sports in 1939. Robinson was the first black player to play major league baseball in 1947, and he experienced a lot of racism. CNN quotes Jackie Robinson.

“I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

So, the history of the national anthem was an issue for black athletes even then. But Jackie Robinson was not the last athlete to have feelings of resentment about the song. In 1968, two black Olympic runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a black power symbol during the anthem according to CNN.

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“The Star Spangled Banner” has long been an issue with black athletes. It isn’t just Colin Kaepernick’s opinion. According to NBC, scores of black athletes have found ways to protest the song silently, sometimes refusing to remove a helmet, continuing to chat, or practice on the field, and all have been both ridiculed by the public and disciplined by various sports authorities.

Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest is directed at the song itself. Colin participates in all other patriotic songs. It is just “The Star Spangled Banner” that is offensive, not all patriotism. Even more frustrating than the song, though, is the fact most non-black Americans had no idea the song is offensive to blacks. It is just an example of so many things people don’t know unless it impacts them personally.

The history of the national anthem may lead to replacing the song someday. Many professional singers would probably rejoice at not having to reach those impossible notes anyway, but what about replacing the attitude of not speaking up, and of not listening when other people do. Eric Reid told ESPN that his friend Colin Kaepernick was saddened when he discovered that many veterans were hurt by his protest.

“He saw that it hurt people that he sat during the national anthem. There are people that actually put their lives on the line for this country to give us freedom. We talked for a couple days…And it was just today actually, a couple hours before the game, we were like, hey, why don’t you take a knee.”


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Colin Kaepernick was surprised that his refusal to stand for the anthem was hurtful to veterans. Colin had no idea, just as most veterans likely had no idea how Colin and other African-Americans felt about “The Star Spangled Banner.” Kaepernick has adjusted his protest so as not to be offensive, but he still feels the matter must be discussed. Perhaps someday soon, people will be able to talk about these issues more openly and devise solutions to these long held, emotionally charged issues with compassion and understanding for the other person’s point of view.

Can Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest and the history of the national anthem be discussed with mutual respect and understanding in 2016?

[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]