Colin Kaepernick: An American Patriot

By Kenneth Cooper

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Colin Kaepernick conversing with 49ners fans. (HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES)

Who would have thought kneeling for your rights would be a headline in 2016? Upon hearing the news of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem as a protest against racial disparities, I was baffled.

He has brought a highly charged topic to the forefront of American conversation in a way no other NFL athlete has done in previous years. He has created a firestorm by simply choosing to exercise his right to protest.Historically, NFL teams and their players avoid this sort of controversy as it brings unwanted attention and can become a distraction that upsets team chemistry, which may ultimately derail a team’s championship aspirations.

On Monday, Kaepernick continued protesting the national anthem. He kneeled on the grassy surface of the football field just like he has done for the past several weeks. This weekend was also different because it was the memorial of Sept. 11. Many critics of Kaepernick and his fellow protesters claimed that his actions were “disrespectful” to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11. In the same way others have claimed that their actions were “disrespectful” to the military in the previous weeks. With it being the anniversary of Sept. 11, some have said that it “wasn’t the time or the place” to protest the issues that Kaepernick highlighted. This situation has some American’s thinking about what it means to protest and be a patriot.

Who should define the “appropriate” time and a place to protest?

Let’s get this straight, in this country, the time and place to protest substantive issues should never be restricted nor confined by those that are uncomfortable with the message.

Kaepernick’s attempt to bring attention to racial injustice is being misconstrued, because many Americans are feeling way too uncomfortable about the way he protests. Kaepernick and the other players are not disrespecting the flag or the military or 9/11 victims by not standing. In fact, it is ironic that their critics want them to stand for the country when the country does not stand for its black citizens in return. The lack of reciprocity highlights one of many aspects that is the American contradiction.

Is Kaepernick’s protest truly unpatriotic as some of his harshest critics have claimed? Or should blacks be patriotic to a flag and the country that does not respect them?

In my opinion, Colin Kaepernick embodies patriotism in a way his critics do not.

This week he was not alone in his bold attempt at social equality. Kaepernick was joined by players on multiple teams. Some, such as Arian Foster and three of his Miami Dolphins teammates, kneeled in the same fashion as Kaepernick. After the game, he was questioned on whether or not it was the right time.

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From left, Miami Dolphins’ Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, and Kenny Stills, kneel during the singing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear) ORG XMIT: SEA110 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]
“They say it’s not the time to do this,” said Foster. “Well, when is the time? It’s never the time in somebody else’s eyes, because they’ll always feel like it’s good enough. And some people don’t.”

In addition, Broncos linebacker kneeled showing Kaepernick support and even lost an endorsement. Others have raised black fists as a tribute to the 1968 Olympics when black Olympians, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists to show support for the Civil Rights Movement.

America does not respect its black citizens but it has no problem appropriating aspects of their culture. If they do not see us as dollar signs or entertainment, they do not want to see us at all let alone hear us.

Kaepernick’s actions have also drawn the attention of the baby-handed Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. On the TV show FOX & Friends Trump made an appearance and criticized Kaepernick for his actions.

“Well, I think it’s a lack of appreciation for our country, and it’s a very sad thing,” said Trump. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it, actually. You know, you are talking about a major sport, maybe the major sport, and when you see that and it leads to a lot of other things. I think it’s a great lack of respect and appreciation for our country and I really said they should try another country, see if they like it better. See how well they’ll be doing. See if they are going to be making $20 million being a second-string quarter.”

What is even more disturbing, is the fact that this opinion is shared by many Americans. Kaepernick’s actions are not disrespectful. The assertion that he should “try another country” is cowardice. He is not unappreciative. True patriots do not leave their country when it gets tough; they care about the country enough to do whatever it means to make it better. Kaepernick appreciates this country more than enough to hold the country accountable for racial disparities.

Football is often looked as an escape from all of the week’s wrongdoings on a Sunday afternoon. This is a period where we are beginning to merge those social and political issues on days of the week that are looked at as a day off. It’s long overdue and it’s a means to ensure that there is no escape from social injustice across the country. There shouldn’t be a way to escape.

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When Kaepernick doesn’t stand and salute the flag, his intent is not to disrespect it, his intent is to highlight the fact that the institutional racism has created disparities amongst its citizens that result in a promise unfulfilled. We shouldn’t look at Kaepernick as someone who has disrespected the flag, rather we should look at someone who has adopted its principles.

As an American citizen and a black male, I am torn by this country’s lack of respect for its citizens of color. I am torn by the systemic and institutional racism that exists within the country. Those ideals are supposed to be supplied uniformly to all of its citizens. The narrative that racism is not an issue, is false.

It is still, in 2016, a dream unfulfilled. I am not supposed to ignore the unjust deaths of my fellow black citizens at the hands of police officers. I should not feel obligated to stand for the national anthem when my white counterpart sees more value in my culture rather than my life or just does not value my life at all.

Kaepernick’s actions are not a fad. His actions are not unpatriotic. In fact, they exemplify what a true patriot does when they feel their country is not up to par. He has inspired many across the country to think critically and ask themselves, “What am I really standing for?” Our new generation of black entertainers and athletes such as Kaepernick, Jesse Williams, Yara Shahidi, Zendaya, just to name a few, are doing a really good job at leading a movement for social change. Only time will tell if Kaepernick’s actions will have a long lasting effect.

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