Colin Kaepernick, backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, shocked the country two weeks ago in an unprecedented way. During the American National Anthem, which is played at the beginning of any National Football League game, Kaepernick decided he did not want to stand or put his hand over his heart, as is the tradition and most widely accepted way to “honor” the song, the American flag, and our nation’s history. Kaepernick instead decided to sit throughout the entirety of the song, which he claims to have done due to the violence black people face in the United States, especially at the hands of the police. Many people became outraged at his actions, saying he was “un-American,” a traitor, or just seeking attention, while others said that, as an athlete, he should keep his opinions on the state of our country to himself.
No matter the response he received, much of which was actually support, Kaepernick decided to continue his protest the following week by taking a knee during the Anthem in San Diego, which is well-known to be a military town, and on “Salute to the Military” night no less. This time he was joined by one of his teammates, as well as by members of other teams around the NFL. Through all of this, despite the large amount of support Kaepernick and his comrades have gained, including from veterans and activists alike, many Americans have continued to claim that the quarterback is being disrespectful or treasonous. Unfortunately for those people, the logic doesn’t quite add up if you actually, you know, apply logic to it.
Here are TBINAA, we believe that Kaepernick’s message through his protests is not only valid, it is completely necessary, especially coming from someone who garners a great amount of social attention.
When we say #NoBodiesInvisible, we mean no one’s call for equity and social justice will go unnoticed, and we will try to “call in” those who oppose them.
With that said, here are three responses to Kaepernick and his protest that make absolutely no sense, and what we should be thinking about instead.
“You’re Just An Athlete, You Don’t Get An Opinion!”
While being an athlete, especially one with the near-celebrity status that Kaepernick holds, has plenty of perks and presents many privileges, there is often a point where the public just doesn’t want to listen anymore. Whenever athletes become “too outspoken” about topics like politics or social justice, many folks in the public feel the need to erroneously remind them that they shouldn’t have an opinion. Usually this response comes out because major athletes are either “too removed” from the issues or simply because people think that all professional athletes, especially athletes of color, are unintelligent.
We have seen this kind of backlash to athletes and celebrities of color before. National Basketball Association hall-of-famer and author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been subjected to similar criticism, even as he has spoken on the current National Anthem protests. Gabby Douglas, an American gymnast who won her third gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this year, faced harsh criticism from various sources for not putting her hand over her heart during the National Anthem. The funny part about the criticism Douglas received is that she wasn’t even protesting, as, in her own words, she was “stand at attention,” which is something she learned was appropriate due to her family’s background in the military. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the long history of celebrities and athletes protesting and facing outrageous backlash, including the famous incident of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the medal podium during the Anthem at the 1968 Olympics.
And now, as Kaepernick and has begun his protest of sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem, he has seen the same sort of criticism. Much of this criticism has come from the idea that he is unappreciative or undeserving of his position in professional sports, let alone his standing as an American, and that other people would love to take his spot.
Unfortunately for those haters, it doesn’t work like. You see, as people who watch sports in any way, whether it’s football, the Olympics, or at your local high school, you are consuming the bodies of these athletes for your entertainment. Especially in the case of professional sports, their bodies are being bought and sold by their teams and leagues to be consumed by the masses. No matter your investment in their careers, as someone watching at home or handling their contracts, you do not get to pick and choose what these athletes get to say and do, especially when the action is simply sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem. These athletes have minds and opinions of their own, and they have the right to share them on national television as much as you and I do behind our computer screens.
More Radical Reads: A 1-On-1 With BLM: Is Black Lives Matter a Radical Self love Movement?
Instead of looking at Kaepernick’s actions and saying “you don’t get to have an opinion!” consider actually listening to what he is saying through his protests rather than just writing him off as another “dumb athlete.” He is addressing the mistreatment and murders of black people in the United States, saying that he will not stand for or find pride in the flag that represents a country that does not respect its citizens equally.
“Sitting During the National Anthem is Un-American!”
Another popular response to Kaepernick’s protest against the flag and the National Anthem is that it is simply “un-American!” Him refusing to stand during the flag is, to many people, equivalent to high treason, or at the very least disrespectful to the military men and women who have fought and died for his rights as an American. Ultimately, many people see Kaepernick as part of the “rising problem” of people of color in the United States speaking out against police brutality, racism, and the murders of their own communities.
This point flies back in the face of those haters when we take their own arguments of what is or isn’t American and turn it back on them. Many of the folks claiming that Kaepernick’s actions are “un-American” are the same people who are staunch gun rights advocates who rely heavily on the 2nd Amendment of the United State’s Constitution as the basis of their argument. Well if you look at the 1st Amendment, there are two points that make Kaepernick’s actions, by their logic, “inherently American:” the freedom of speech, and the freedom to assemble (as others are now doing at various sport events). But if you take on the argument that the 1st Amendment applies only to the government not creating laws that prohibit freedom of speech or assembly, then I would like you to show me the threat of government infiltration that makes it okay for you to have an assault rifle.
Many critics go in a different direction, saying it is “un-American” to speak out against the police and the state of affairs for people of color in the United States. Was it not “American” for the “founding fathers” to speak out and act against the price of tea when they dumped some tea into the Boston Harbor? How exactly do you justify the actions of men who took a commodity, said the price of it is too damn high, and poured some of it into a harbor as a valid, patriotic protest, but when someone is saying “how about let’s not kill people of color anymore” it’s “un-American?” How can you look at thisas treason when many veterans, the “real patriots,” are coming out not only to support Kaepernick’s decision to protest, but also to support his actual message? And how exactly do you want people to protest, if this is “so un-American,” yet you are so quick to call out Black Lives Matter activists as “violent” or people who protest Trump rallies to be too “disruptive?”
Maybe instead of looking at Kaepernick’s actions as “un-American,” we should consider some actions that are quite deplorable and embarrassing, if not outright violent, that we constantly see in our “land of the free” and the “home of the brave?” For example, the state of immigration rights in our country is underwhelming at best, wrought with xenophobia, racism, and contradictory fear of “losing our jobs” to “lazy freeloading” immigrants. This is funny considering this nation was taken over by colonialist “immigrants” and built on the backs of non-native slaves and other (actual) immigrants and at the expense of the Native American, Mexican, and Canadian populations.
That’s not to mention the status quo of women, especially women of color, being paid less for the same work, or women not being allowed to take ownership over their bodies, or disabled people who can’t access many spaces because of the unwillingness of many to accommodate them, or people who can’t even choose which bathrooms to use, etcetera, etcetera.
How is it okay that so many people are oppressed and suffering on the regular in the name of patriotism and “American values,” and when someone wants to speak out about, you feel the need to act like it’s a direct attack on you and your “American” ideal?
“You Should Respect What the Flag and the Anthem Represent!”
A point that many Kaepernick haters talk about in relation to the above sentiment of “un-Americanness” is that the flag and Anthem represent freedom, and that needs to be respected. The Star Spangled Banner itself is a symbol of the freedom we supposedly have as a nation, and the anthem of the same name is meant to represent the fight that men and women in the military have fought for said freedom. In reality, though, the flag and anthem represent so much more than that, and it definitely isn’t all very positive.
The flag, to many other nations and to many people in the United States, represents modern colonialism and imperialism, as the United States continues to participate in foreign wars and conflicts with little to no actual threat to American safety, despite that being one of the reasons it keeps happening. The flag also represents the havoc that capitalism causes throughout the world, as many other nations strive to emulate the over-processed and largely artificial “American way of life.” The flag represents the genocide of native people in the name of “manifest destiny.” And the flag doesn’t represent freedom, rather it represents the false sense of “freedom” we are afforded only if we play by the rules, and even then that “freedom” can be taken away.
Now the Anthem is a different story. The anthem, or rather the original poem by Francis Scott Key was filled with far more hate and racism than many Americans know. Key wrote the his poem about the flag and the “home of the brave” as a result of the War of 1812, where British forces hired black slaves to fight for them with the promise of giving them freedom. Key, who was a staunch racist and believed enslaving Africans was more than justified, reveled in the fact that American forces killed these slaves fighting for their freedom, and reflected that in the part of the Anthem that we, conveniently, don’t sing.
Instead of blindly accepting the idea that the flag and the Anthem represent our inherent “freedom” as Americans, you should consider the extreme amounts of body terrorism these symbols actually represent for both Americans and folks around the world. Why do you feel the need to force people to stand for a flag and an Anthem that are symbols of bigotry and destruction?
More Radical Reads: 4 Ways Your Outrage is Changing the World
It will be interesting to see the direction Kaepernick’s protest take as we enter the NFL’s regular season this week. Other players, including one of the 49er’s rival teams, the Seattle Seahawks, have vowed to sit or kneel in solidarity with Kaepernick, showing that the message he is getting across is bigger than some regionally set up team rivalry. There are many other athletes who are joining in Kaepernick’s protest as well, including NBA superstar Steph Curry, who plays for the Golden State warriors, along with members of the women’s volleyball team at University of West Virginia, to name a few. Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama, who is an avid sports fan, has supported Kaepernick’s right to protest.
My biggest suggestion to anyone who is more interested in criticizing Kaepernick for his actions than actually listening and understanding where he is coming from is to take a step back and look at the situation at hand.
Are you going to put yourself in a position that enables and supports the continued body terrorism on various groups in the United States, or are you going to support the struggles to achieve an actual sense of American “freedom” through equity and treating each other as human beings?
TBINAA is calling on those who are fighting against Kaepernick’s protests to understand how #NoBodiesInvisible, that we are not going to stand for a flag or an Anthem that has been historically violent and that has systematically oppressed far too many people for far too long.
Kaepernick and his comrades’ visible protest is needed and their attempts to make this country a better place valid.