On August 14 and 16th, 2016, Colin Kaepernick followed in the footsteps of civil rights activist, Bernice Fisher. He staged a silent one-man protest, by sitting during the National Anthem. Barely, anyone noticed.
That changed, on August 26th. Beat reporter, and women of wrestling’s own Jennifer Lee Chan, aka Jade, tweeted a photo and statement about Kaepernick’s sitting during the National Anthem. The tweet heard ‘round the world ignited a firestorm.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why would he would risk his career? What happened to make a lot of money, get to the top, and gratefully lay low? Glad to have overcome one’s own adversity?
He was potentially sacrificing millions of dollars in income. Facing ridicule, and ostracization by fans and strangers worldwide. Why would he risk everything to expose broken promises; from speeches, flags, poems, songs, Declarations and Constitutions? He knew, we already knew, that was happening. Didn’t he? Perhaps that’s why he did it.
Maybe, the first time, when Colin and Eric Reid knelt together in solidarity, it was because they lacked the guidance on how to take a stand; or possibly they learned from some of the best? It is conceivable, that they knew, that no amount of polished PSA messaging was going to have the impact that kneeling during a national televised National Anthem would create. Then again, they could have simply made a mistake and found themselves in the spotlight. What is clear, is that, they did it for something greater than themselves. Eric’s role has become somewhat marginalized, where Colin has become the poster boy for anti-American sentiment.
Their statements, immediately following the demonstration, prove that their intent was not to insult the flag or our military. They wanted to raise awareness for people being underrepresented by our flag and our Constitution. In a press conference, Colin expressed gratitude to those fighting, around the world, to protect our rights. He further expressed regret, that their efforts were being undermined when we are not providing liberty and justice for everyone back at home.
Before, you stop reading, and jump to the comments section, assuming that I am a Kaepernick-loving, anti-America liberal, please, hear my out. When I first witnessed Colin’s kneeling during an NFL game, I thought he was a wrong. I was offended that he brought his agenda into my living room; that he used his fame to make such a stand. It felt like a violation. I thought, what right do you have? I’m just trying to chill and watch a game. Flip the coin, kick the pigskin and let’s get ready for some Football!
In full disclosure, I am a white male. By pigment and genitalia, I have been given privilege. There are things that come easier because of the color of my skin and what’s between my legs. It’s something that I rarely think about. At times, I feel discriminated against. Sometimes, I actually am. But, I have no idea how hard it is to be a minority of any form in America.
My privilege goes beyond the promises added to the Declarations of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson. Offering “unalienable rights” to all men. Those rights along with the right to bear arms, the right to vote, and freedom of speech were given to every man; me included. Slaves, and women need not apply. They did not qualify as men. A slave, regardless of color, was not consider a “man” under the law. It took nearly 190 years to fully acknowledge most minority groups as equals under our US Constitution. It’s still a work in progress.
When this controversy began, I knew little of Colin Kaepernick. I didn’t even know that he was a person of color; his words by the way. Why would I? He wears a helmet. He has a German last name, and his parents are Caucasian. I only, recently, learned that he was the son of a bitch. This revelation came, thanks to his mother, Teresa when she came out as a “proud bitch” in response to President Trump, calling kneeling pro-athletes “sons of bitches.”
I can only suspect, that he thought, people weren’t going to listen to a rich pro athlete talk about “the struggle.” At the least, everyone was too busy dealing with their own stuff. At the most, he would appear hypocritical. So, he turned to where millions tune-in to turn-out? NFL Football.
He sat, then kneeled, then grew an afro, to get the world’s attention. It worked. He used the world’s stage to express his outrage. Inappropriately? Perhaps. Effectively? It is yet to be seen. But he took a risk for something greater than himself and he got everyone’s attention. He changed the narrative. He pissed people off. But, he started a conversation. Black and White. Veterans and Civilians. Players and Politicians.
When Colin kneeled, I was angry at him. Then I took the time to think about why I was angry. I realized it was my own narrow world view. My unwillingness, to see what it was like to live as a minority, regardless of economic class. It was easier to look away and focus on getting another beer during a commercial break.
Our country was founded and exists on the decisions of flawed individuals and documents. That is why we have elections and amendments. Protests and Resolutions. Each day, we try to get a little better. Change requires risk and the willingness to admit when we are wrong. A long-haired Jew, that I am quite fond of, once said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” At first, I threw stones at Colin, and I regret it. I don’t condone his approach, but I admire it.
By writing this, I am taking action. I am sure I will upset strangers, and friends alike. It is not my intent. I hope to encourage intelligent, peaceful and compassionate dialogue. I don’t want to see players fired. I don’t want to see the President of the United States telling the NFL how to run its affairs. I’m pretty sure there are other things, he should be focused on. I, especially, do not want to see this turn into racial conflicts among players, or between fans in the stands.
No one wants to see veterans, like, retired captain, army ranger, and offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Alejandro Villanueva; having to choose between standing with his teammates or standing in a tunnel before a game. That is not unity, it is reinforcing discordance. Colin and Eric, did not kneel to push people away, they did it to encourage unity. It was about using an opportune moment to send a message.
Regardless, the story is not Colin Kaepernick. The story is not President Trump. The story is why we still have racial divisiveness in a country that calls itself the United States. It’s about breaking down invisible, and silently accepted walls. It’s time to stop discussing body positions during songs. If the topic is still alive, then we are not united. I vote we substitute name calling and kneeling, with understanding and collaboration.