On Friday night, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made news in a preseason game.
Usually this would mean he played out of his mind or got injured. In this case, it was none of the above. Kaepernick, who is biracial, elected to sit during the playing of the national anthem. Why? He explained his reasoning to NFL.com's Steve Wyche:
“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 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.”
No ambiguity there. Just his reasoning based on the events in his world and events in the world around him. It's often been said that one’s perception of things is their reality. I'm a white guy who grew up in a largely white town. All my friends were white. All of their friends were white. All my teachers were white. All my coaches were white. Do you get where I am going here?
While I have lived all over the country as an adult, my most formative years were spent in the world I just mentioned. That world helped to shape my perspective on certain things.
That perspective has evolved in myriad ways because I've lived in diverse large cities. I've often said that I feel sorry for people who spend their lives in one place. It creates a mental shoebox that's almost permanently sealed. Few things can get in to change that view of the world.
Back to Kaepernick. Here is a player that has one foot out the door in San Francisco. His play over the last two seasons hasn't merited much in the way of confidence. He has a new head coach and a contract that pays him a whole lot of dough. He also has numerous endorsements.
Considering the relatively short life span of the NFL career, if things go south for Kaepernick again this year, his meaningful playing days could be over after just 6 seasons. In a league that has never been shy about keeping a player out of work as a result of distractions, the decision by Kaepernick to boycott the national anthem could be respected just as much as it's being reviled.
This is a guy that has a lot to lose. Hanging on for a few extra years in the league (even as a backup) could be the difference between no money and roughly $10,000,000. I don't normally type out the number but I think it's important to look at it and realize just how much that is for a guy whose big-time earning potential will be over by the time he is in his mid 30's... if not earlier.
Now I want to be clear about something. I'm not saying that I endorse what Colin Kaepernick is doing. I'm not applauding it. I'm not encouraging others to do the same thing. I'll go a bit further. I think it's a tad bit short-sighted to boycott the national anthem on the grounds that Kaepernick has mentioned while ignoring all of the other things the flag and the national anthem stand for.
Do we live in a perfect world? A perfect country? As a gay man and a minority myself, I could certainly attest to the fact that we don't. The flag and the national anthem used to salute the flag isn't only emblematic of our law enforcement community or government. It's also representative of the man or woman who lives next door to you and volunteers at a soup kitchen.
It stands for the guy who jumped into the flood waters in Louisiana to save a complete stranger and her dog from a car that was sinking into a watery grave. It stands for the volunteers who will spend the foreseeable future in that same community helping those in need.
There are examples of the world that upsets Kaepernick and leads him to his decision to boycott the national anthem. But I can also point to countless examples of the people of this country that show the very best of what that flag represents.
While I may find Colin Kaepernick's boycotting of the national anthem to be short-sighted, I also will vigorously defend his right to stand for something he believes in. I've heard people say things that intimate the 49ers should release Kaepernick. Others point to the nearly $17,000,000 he is making this season alone as a rationale for why he should stand during the anthem. Neither of these positions makes all that much sense. Whether you are poor or wealthy, you have just the same right to voice your opinion on something that is of importance to you.
His dissing the national anthem may be upsetting or even offensive to some but it certainly doesn't adversely affect you in any way, shape or form. In fact, you can make the argument that he will negatively impact his own life far more than he could ever impact yours by his actions.
We often condemn professional athletes for their silence when it comes to issues of importance around the country and around the world. It seems to be a tad bit hypocritical to demean Kaepernick's actions just because it doesn't match up with the way you would handle a grievance. Either we want people to stand up for issues or we don't. You can't have it both ways.
The NFL has said that it while it encourages players to stand for the national anthem, it doesn't mandate that they do so. The team that signs his paychecks has essentially echoed that sentiment.
The support for Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit during the national anthem may be viewed along racial and societal lines. The support for his decision to express himself in that manner should be universal.