the first time colin kaepernick sat down for the national anthem during the 2016 nfl preseason, he aimed to passively shine a brighter light on police brutality against black citizens in the u.s. plenty of critcs didn’t like him using the bright light of nfl celebrity as such. the loudest and most widely used excuse for rejecting his dissent was that he was disrespecting the police, the flag, the military and the country as a whole.
in order to appease these critics (and nfl officials) kaepernick modified his protest to a more acquiescent-looking genuflection. his courteous adjustment didn’t make much of a difference. detractors still saw him as dissing ‘merica and the fact that no nfl team would hire him this year is attributed to his social consciousness, or more aptly, to the unpopularity of his social consciousness with nfl fans.
freedom: brought to u & taken away from u by a gun.
but kaep’s actions did gain attention and respect from a few other players in the league, and the handful of passive protests that were happening at the beginning of this season provoked an angry, patriotic, bluster from president trump.
trump’s exhortation to fire any “son of a bitch” who kneels during the national anthem got nearly every nfl player and owner involved in the debate.
nfl teams have painstakingly sought to find solutions that respect the rights of players to express their opinions but don’t alienate fans, and there have been sound bytes all over the media promoting the perspective that this is an opportunity to start a dialogue on a quest for common ground.
but if there was really going to be a “dialogue”, it would have started over a year ago. and while “common ground” is a nice audio meme that evokes images of community and relief from this polarity, by definition it requires a willingness to compromise, and one side simply recites “flag, troops, USA!!” and refuses to budge.
last sunday before the playing of the national anthem at the baltimore ravens/pittsburgh steelers game, an announcement inviting fans to join the players and the entire organization in a prayer for kindness, unity, equality and justice was roundly rebuked. the players took a knee, generating hearty boos that echoed throughout the stadium and into the living rooms of fans around the world; loud evidence of how much fans appreciate the players bending over backwards to make their resistance friendlier for everyone and inoffensive to “patriotism”.
butt-hurt ravens fans (ap photo/alex brandon)
the original pretext for spurning the players’ message was that the national anthem is not an appropriate time for staging a peaceful protest, but the fans’ rejection of the compromise the nfl has offered illustrates why the anthem is in fact the perfect time for a protest.
butt-hurt flag-hugging in the face of an issue that requires a nuanced understanding has become another barrier to unity, or is the same barrier it has always been. nationalistic sentiments are not more important than human rights. in other words, the idealized, comfortable and proud feelings that some derive from venerating a flag don’t supersede the desire of others to not be shot by police when they are unarmed. it should be obvious, but it’s obviously not.
the nfl protests need to continue indefinitely as an uncomfortable reminder that american patriotic symbols don’t represent the same feelings for everyone in a diverse nation.
richyrocks is a media consumer/nfl fan.