The buzz over Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest just won’t stop as more athletes join Kaepernick’s cause. Whether or not people are for or against Kaepernick’s protest, in reacting to it, they are continuing the conversation.
While Kaepernick was initially met with scrutiny and backlash he is now being showered with support from fans, celebrities like J. Cole and Trey Songz, and other professional athletes like Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks. Kaepernick posted a picture on Instagram thanking those who have recently been photographed wearing his jersey.
Prior to Kaepernick’s protest, he and San Francisco 49er executives had reportedly been at odds. Although the 49er’s organization probably isn’t happy with Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem, in the wake of the protest, Kaepernick’s jersey has become the no.1 seller among 49er’s merchandise. Enough people have supported Kaepernick and the Niners by way of their pocket, team officials might not distaste the protest as much as they did originally. After all, the NFL is a business and controversy sells.
But purchasing and throwing on a Kaepernick jersey is not the only way people are showing their support for him. Seattle Seahawks’ Jeremy Lane joined Kaepernick’s protest by sitting during the national anthem during a preseason game and teammates Cliff Avril and Doug Baldwin told the Seattle Times they have been considering joining the protest, in what they said would be a “big surprise” during Sunday’s opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Outside of the NFL, Megan Rapinoe of the USWNT and the Seattle Reign showed solidarity with Kaepernick by kneeling during the national anthem in a match against Chicago. After the game Rapinoe spoke poignantly about her decision.
“It was very intentional,” said Rapinoe. “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country. Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful.”
Of course, with more support comes more resistance, especially on such a polarizing issue—race relations and systemic oppression in America. There are many who view Kaepernick’s protest, as inherently anti-America and disrespectful to the country, flag, and veterans. Like Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch who haulted Rapinoe’s intended protest during a match against Seattle by nixing the national anthem and playing it 14 minutes early.
The Spirit explained their decision with this statement:
“We decided to play the anthem in our stadium ahead of schedule rather than subject our fans and friends to the disrespect we feel such an act would represent…The tradition of honoring our military and our patriotism before our games is very important to us. We strongly feel that there are better ways to begin a conversation about a cause than tarnishing a tradition that is so important to so many.”
While the Spirit’s intent was to preserve the honor of the American flag and our veterans, the organization failed to realize not all veterans agree with their position. There are a large number of military veterans in support of Kaepernick. Photos of veterans sitting down with the caption #veteransforkaepernick went viral on social media just days after his initial protest. So for anyone saying, or even thinking that veterans aren’t fighting for Kaepernick to sit, they’re right. They fight for his right to stand or sit, which is the beauty and freedom of America. Because that is what America stands for right—freedom?
People who only view Kaepernick’s protest as disrespectful and refuse to try to understand his motivation for it, are the ones acting against American values. Here, we claim to value freedom of speech and freedom of choice, but when something is said or done we don’t agree with, we shun and criticize it. Kaepernick, on the other hand, is simply exercising one of his many American freedoms, while still listening to other opinions on the issue.
That is the point of this protest after all, to start the conversation which includes listening with the intent to see things from another’s perspective. Although there are still many conversations to be had, Kaepernick has already begun the process of affecting change. Whether you’re for the protest, against the protest—for Kaepernick, against Kaepernick, none of that matters at this point.
Because hate or love the conversation sparked by this protest, support or shun it, it continues to be mentioned in the media. Some people are having more conversations about race and inequality now, than ever in their life and that’s a start. That is the start, because nothing about racism, systematic oppression, police brutality, and inequality will change if we don’t first acknowledge it and then attack it through constructive conversation and action.
Thursday, the 49ers announced they would donate $1 million dollars to two groups in northern California that address social inequality. Although just a baby step in the right direction, these are the types of actions that create long-term change. If it were not for Kaepernick’s willingness to sit, and other’s willingness to stand with him, these very important conversations would still be on hold.