Last Sunday, Hot Firefighter Husband said, “This is the last Sunday I’ll be uninterested in what’s on tv.” Because football. And because being obsessed with politics doesn’t take up nearly enough of his time. My eyes began rolling in big dizzying circles.
BUT THEN here comes Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, letting his brain focus on something other than big men chasing small balls. Okay, man. Now I’m interested.
Colin Kaepernick is the guy who wouldn’t stand up for the national anthem last week at the team’s preseason 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,” Kaepernick told NFL Media’s Steve Wyche. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Suddenly this guy is on par with, like, ISIS, and everyone’s asking why he can’t be more like Usain Bolt, who stopped an interview during the Olympics in Rio so he could listen to the U.S. national anthem – even though he’s Jamaican.
But I’m not asking that. I’m asking why people can’t let Colin Kaepernick be Colin Kaepernick, and why no one appreciates a multi-millionaire football jock who gives a shit about this country’s racial divide. He didn’t break the law. He didn’t insult any particular person. He didn’t start playing a bazooka to interrupt the song. He quietly, respectfully sat down – while everyone else was standing – in recognition of his belief that this country is failing a significant portion of its citizenry. I say: Good for him.
Kaepernick is half black and half white, and was adopted at birth by a white couple who raised him in California with two siblings. His birth mother has tracked him down, although he has declined opportunities to establish a regular relationship with her. Nevertheless, she has declared publicly that he brought “shame” on his family by being disrespectful to a country which has allowed him to achieve such success. The reason why any journalist would report what she thinks escapes me.
Adopted children often are told how “lucky” they are to have been adopted by loving families, the natural inference being that the adoptive parents should be canonized for taking on such a chore. But that’s a myth. There’s nothing lucky about a birth mother unable to raise her baby, and nothing lucky about a child growing up without knowledge of his origins. And in this way, Kaepernick seems extraordinary to me. He was raised in a white community, by white parents he adores, and yet has discovered within himself a heritage with which he identifies. He doesn’t know his black birth father, the person who assured his connection to the African American community, but he doesn’t need to – he is part of it nonetheless, and he will fight for it in his own way.
Listen, we don’t make it easy to protest social injustice in this country. The #blacklivesmatter protestors have been labeled thugs. The poor have been accused of living off entitlements. Upper middle class people who speak up for economic equality are called socialists. If Colin Kaepernick held a press conference to announce his concerns about racism and police shootings, would anyone care what he said? Frankly, I think he chose a pretty tame but effective way to draw attention to an important issue: he did something unexpected, and forced people to take notice.
Let’s set aside the fact that The Star-Spangled Banner lyricist, Francis Scott Key, owned slaves, and once called blacks “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” Land of the free, my ass. I’m inclined to sit down for the anthem myself. But that’s not why Kaepernick didn’t stand.
Kaepernick knows the trajectory of his football career is rooted in talent, drive, and plain old luck. His decision to sit down for the national anthem, in my mind, shows respect – respect for the notion that money and a good life don’t absolve a person from recognizing a population in need. The ultimate disrespect, in fact, is the idea that any American should be shamed and derided for reminding the rest of us that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, among them, the freedom of expression. People don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s decision. But just because he’s willing to get beat up playing the most violent game on the planet – for entertainment! – doesn’t mean he has lost his conscience or his voice.
Speak up, Colin. If speaking up means sitting down, you go, boy.
And Jaguars fans, consider this: he’s battling Blaine Gabbert for the starting quarterback position.