San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been protesting institutional racism against African Americans and other minorities in America with a simple act: sitting down during the national anthem. In solidarity, other athletes across the country have used their platforms on the national stage to start an honest discussion about racial inequality in the United States. Athletes like 49ers' Eric Reid, Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe, Marcus Peters and the Kansas City Chiefs, Jeremy Lane and the Seattle Seahawks, Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos, Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots, Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Stills, of the Miami Dolphins, Jurrell Casey, Wesley Woodyard and Jason McCourty of the Tennessee Titans, Robert Quinn and Kenny Britt of the Los Angeles Rams, and numerous members of college and high school football teams have joined the protest. They are reaching a really large audience, sports fans of football and soccer that might not otherwise be exposed to an honest conversation about race and inequality.

In a time where two time Team USA Olympian Gabby Douglas was viciously criticized for not having her hand over her heart, but still standing up and paying attention to the flag during the national anthem, we need the protest that Kaepernick started. Juxtaposed with the initial response to Ryan Lochte's vandalism, it is important that we have a conversation about racial prejudice. Gabby Douglass was criticized about an unconscious action to the point where she was avoiding all social media. Keep in mind she is a 20 year old who has won gold for America. And yet, when news of the whole Lochte debacle broke out, a lot of people were quick to not hold him accountable and called him, a 32 year old, a kid. American society is rife with interpersonal racism like the situation with Douglas but what's even more concerning is hidden institutional racism. Institutional racism is the systemic disadvantaging of certain groups by structures in society.

In a world where celebrities are criticized for not commenting on real issues, Kaepernick and his supporters have opened up an important discussion. Yet, these celebrities who are bringing up valid points about the inequality present in the status quo are still facing criticism.

"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 told NFL media in an exclusive interview after the game. "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."

Previous protests about POC being oppressed by groups like Black Lives Matter have faced severe backlash for their unconventional ways of captivating the nation's attention (like shutting down the Bay Bridge) to discuss problems like racial profiling and police brutality against African Americans. Kaepernick is similarly on a national stage as he continues his silent but bold protest. Both tactics are accomplishing the same goal of raising awareness about the conditions minorities face in America. And yet the same people who criticized BLM for being loud and disruptive are also criticizing Kaepernick for protesting in a much more non-disruptive manner. Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the anthem, a symbol of centuries of oppression, isn't unlike the sit-in protests of the civil rights movement in the 1960s; the times have changed and racism has changed along with it.

People are getting angry about the act of protesting, claiming that it is disrespectful and not fair to veterans. But at least he and the others are acting and doing something about it. If people are so concerned about the well-being of veterans, they should learn about how they can help veterans with PTSD readjust to civilian lives. They should do something, not disparage the actions of another trying to bring attention to a cause he cares deeply about. To all the people who are criticizing Kaepernick, why not spend time to learn about why he is protesting.

Kaepernick himself said that he has thought about going public with his feelings for a while but that "I felt that I needed to understand the situation better."

Why not support a different cause? Unless the criticism is constructive, it's not helping anyone. It is more disrespectful to millions of Americans to not recognize the struggles this country faces. Institutional racism and inequality in America are major problems that affect all members of society. So don't criticize Kaepernick. He is well within the right to freedom of speech and is supporting his cause in a completely selfless manner.

"I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right." -Colin Kaepernick