By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest the police shootings of black men and women has left some fans reeling, but Kaepernick refuses to back down.
Meanwhile, he’s finding both critics and supporters for his position.
Kaepernick, who plays for the San Francisco 49ers, sat during the national anthem of Aug. 26’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. According to NFL Media, Kaepernick has protested the anthem in another preseason game, but this time, his protest garnered national attention.
Kaepernick told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche that his protest is for something much more important than the game. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said. “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 also expressed knowledge that his decision could cost him financially. “This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” he said. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” Kaepernick has since stated that he will continue to sit during the national anthem.
On the 49ers part, the organization has expressed tolerance for Kaepernick’s decision. They expressed in a statement how the national anthem, a part of pre-game ceremony, provides a moment to honor the rights and liberties American citizens are afforded. “In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem,” the organization stated. The NFL itself also stated that players are not required to stand during the national anthem.
Chip Kelly, coach of the 49ers, also echoed this sentiment Aug. 27, saying that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand is his right. “[I]t’s not my right to tell him not to do something,” he said.
Despite the 49ers and the NFL giving their lenient stance of Kaepernick’s actions, his refusal to stand has divided many 49ers fans as well as football coaches and legends.
Jim Harbaugh, current Michigan Wolverines coach and Kaepernick’s former 49ers coach, told ESPN that despite acknowledging Kaepernick’s right to protest, he didn’t respect “the motivation or the action.” Kaepernick later tweeted a mea culpa. “I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments,” he wrote. “To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s is method of action that I take exception to.” Harbaugh’s brother John, who coaches for the Baltimore Ravens, echoed the same sentiment, adding that Kaepernick’s protest could become a distraction. “None of us ever want us to detract or disrespect the efforts of all the other players on the football team. That’s the balance that all of us have to strike when we speak out about something like that.” New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees also said that he agreed with Kaepernick’s right to protest, but not the method. “…There’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag,” he told ESPN. “…[I]t’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.”
Minnesota Vikings’ Alex Boone took Kaepernick’s protest as an affront to the armed forces. “It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there. That flag obviously gives [Kaepernick] the right to do whatever he wants…At the same time, you should have some [expletive] respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom,” he said to USA Today.
Jerry Rice, a 49ers legend, wrote on Twitter, “All lives matter. So much going on in this world today. Can we all just get along? Colin, I respect your stance but don’t disresepct the Flag.” Rice quickly received backlash on Twitter for using the phrase “All lives matter,” which is often used as a retort to “Black lives matter.”
Even Donald Trump weighed in, saying on a recent episode of Seattle radio’s The Dori Monson Show that if Kaeprnick was unhappy with the country, “maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
However, several others have come out in support of Kaepernick, including Miami Dolphins’ Ndamukong Suh and Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, who told reporters that he felt Kaepernick’s protest had validity despite the high emotions there are surrounding the flag. “…Obviously what he meant to do, what he meant it, it was in a good place…Obviously any time you don’t stand during the national anthem people are going to criticize it. And that’s the unfortunate part of it. You can’t ever stand against the flag and things like that. A lot of people have sacrificed things like that for it, but there is also a deeper meaning to what he did,” he said. “He’s talking about the oppression of African Americans in this country, and that has been going on for a long time…I think there’s also things in this nation that people need to remember and take heed of and also acknowledge.”
Cleveland Browns’ legend Jim Brown declared “I am with [Colin] 100 percent” on Monday’s episode of NFL Total Acccess. “I listened to him and he makes all the sense in the world. He’s within his rights and he’s teelling the truth as he sees it,” he said. Despite that, Brown said he wouldn’t have chosen Kaepernick’s method of protest.
With all of the opinions, it’s easy to forget that Kaepernick is actually following in a tradition of athletes using their platform for social change and protest. USA Today’s Jarrett Bell wrote that Kaepernick’s actions should remind sports fans of another athlete who used his platform to take a stand against injustice.
“The way I see it, he just earned a lot of street cred, as they say, for at least taking a stand for something that he’s obviously passionate about—knowing full well that there could be a political price to pay,” wrote Bell. “Somewhere, Muhammad Ali is smiling.”
Kaepernick’s teammates are working to keep his protest from changing the team’s dynamics. “Things like this break teams apart and we can’t let that happen,” NaVorro Bowman said to NFL Media. “Colin chose to do this. We know Colin and we support him. We don’t think he’s a bad teammate because he decided to voice his opinion.” The team recently held a meeting Aug. 28 to discuss the protest. The meeting ended with several players stating that the team felt unified.
Kaepernick also wants fans to know that his protest isn’t about disrespect; it’s about civil rights. “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country. I have family. I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. They fight for freedom. They fight for people. They fight for liberty and justice for everyone,” said Kaepernick. “…People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up as far as, you know, giving freedom and justice and liberty to everybody.”