Before the start of the Packers and 49ers game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA on Friday evening, many fans enjoyed a familiar sight: the singing of the National Anthem; an event that often fills the crowd with a brimming sense of pride, with feelings of patriotism that for some, borders precipitously on the edge of becoming nationalism. These sentiments were no more apparent than in the ensuing hours and days when it came to light that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, had refused to stand for the singing of the National Anthem.
When asked about his refusal to stand, Kaepernick had this to say: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Kaepernick continues, "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."
To say that this is an incredibly strong message would be an understatement. There is so much history, defiance, pride, intelligence and self-awareness in these words that it may be difficult to unpack it all at first. Interestingly enough, there are many detractors out there who are condemning Kaepernick's message and misconstruing his words to serve their own agendas. Unsurprisingly, many of these detractors are the same ones who actively support and promote the Blue Lives Matter propaganda.
Some have taken his protest as a shot at the brave men and women of our armed forces. A few days after his inaction came to light, he was given the opportunity to reiterate and clarify his point. He spent about 20 minutes fielding questions from reporters in which they desperately tried to box him in to grab a sound bite that would further stoke the flame and instigate a bigger reaction from both Kaepernick's supporters and opponents. In his own words, Kaepernick insisted that his refusal to stand wasn't meant as a sign of disrespect. Rather, he didn't very much appreciate the way many veterans have been treated upon their arrival back in the states.
"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country," Kaepernick said. He continued by discussing injustices that veterans have to endure far too often, "I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right."
Kaepernick, in following up on his initial comments, has made it clear that people of color are his first priority, but his platform speaks to something much more inclusive. He appeals for a government that actually represents the ideals of today's National Anthem, the American flag and the men and women who've laid their lives on the line to defend his right to the freedom of speech.
There are those who try to twist his words and say that he referred to himself as oppressed, which is an outright lie. He's openly acknowledged that he's been afforded great opportunities, but despite those, he's still faced prejudices based on the color of his skin. If he, a millionaire and at-one-time star player, can be discriminated against, what can we reasonably assume is happening to millions of other people of color all over the nation? Maybe he isn't changing anything yet, but it's a start and at least he's actively trying to promote a positive message in the face of hate and vitriol.
We can appreciate the fact that America has provided wonderful opportunities for so many families, while still acknowledging that the United States does have a racist legacy that is still rampant in many areas of the nation. When police continue to target POC at a disproportionate rate and elected officials refer to POC as "the enemy," we have an issue. That's why I'll continue to #SitWithKaepernick.