Colin Kaepernick is a 28-year-old American NFL (National Football League) quarterback player for the San Francisco 49ers. If you had asked me one month ago who Colin Kaepernick was I would had scratched my head and shrugged my shoulders, dosage as, cost admittedly, I am not an avid follower of American football. If you ask me now, however, who Colin Kaepernick is, the case would be completely different; my answer to you would be plain and simple; a brave human being.
During a preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers on August 26th whilst the American national anthem blasted through the stadium and the crowd and players stood on their feet, Kaepernick remained seated as it played on. It was only after the 49ers released a statement confirming the quarterback’s refusal to participate in the anthem that Kaepernick’s “protests” began to creep into the headlines, after his first two ‘sit-down protests’ seemed to remain unnoticed.
The 49ers had no problem with his protests stating, “we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.” It seemed neither did the NFL. “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.” So why did his protest cause such uproar? His reasons to me were more than justified. In fact his actions led me to breathe a sigh of relief. To me, his protest was starkly different to those previously made by public figures such as LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, who have stood in solidarity for movements such as the Black lives matter. Different and more significant in the fact that it was such a poignant and public refusal to pledge allegiance to a flag that had, for him and for many American POC (People of Colour), over centuries (and particularly over the last decade at a more public level) failed to protect their civil rights and liberties, not only as American citizens but as human beings. Additionally, different in that it raised many questions about the role of sportspeople and how they choose to use their public platforms.
It was no surprise to me when his actions received negative backlash from football fans, military service men and women, media outlets and sports players themselves. Their patriotic love of the national anthem and the American flag seemed to them more important than the reasons of his protest – the injustices people of colour face everyday but their white counterparts are willingly blind to. Ignorance certainly is bliss for those who can afford it. Kaepernick was and is not one of those people.
Now, I am not naïve to the reasons why for some opting out of singing the national anthem or standing with your hand on your heart as you pledge allegiance in a public arena is a sign of disrespect. After all, many link these acts to the ‘sacrifices’ of American service men and women who have served, and continue to serve, in the military. However, the significance of his protest transcends the act of not choosing to participate in the national anthem. And so the quarterback decided to alter the nature of his protest; a compromise for those who saw his “sit-down” protest as disrespectful. In order to appease, to “get the message back on track and not take away from the military,” he decided instead to “take a knee.”
His bended knee is one of many in a string of protests over the last few decades in the Americans sports world against the treatment of minorities in America. Kaepernick’s protest, however, in this ‘age of social media’ quickly gained incredible impetus and word spread like wildfire. It was hard not to log onto, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr and not see his face, or in this case his bended knee. In an almost mystic fashion Kaepernick’s protest became significant because public figures, particularly in the sporting arena, do have impressive standing with the American public and as an extension, the world. That was obvious by both the negative and yet still positive reaction to his protest. The “bended kne” protest now continues to grow not only within the NFL, but has started to grace other areas of sport. Just last Thursday an entire high school women’s volleyball tea, Minneapolis South, were on one knee as the anthem played.
Kaepernick has managed, in my opinion, to mobilize a movement of protest in one of the most important areas of American life and culture; sport. Whilst yes, the core of his protest has been subject to derailment at times, it always managed to find its way back to why it started. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour…there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick himself stated. The platform and influence that sportspeople and celebrities have is sometimes taken for granted, and so it is refreshing to see such an important public figure, a hero to men and women, old and young alike, standing up for those who are often not afforded a strong voice of influence. It is important that he did this, that he set an example whilst many were so against him.
Written by Jasmine Botchey