There are times you have to sit down to take a stand; Rosa Parks did it 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on that bus, and Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the 49ers, did it in 2016 when he decided not to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game. Kaepernick explained:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.”
And some people went nuts. How dare he not stand! How dare he take the anthem and turn it into some kind of racial protest! And, as a friend of mine ::: sigh ::: posted on Facebook, “Let him find a new nation.”
Yes, America! Love it or leave! But for goddess’s sake, don’t try to fix it, don’t try to stand up against oppression — especially when you are a person of color yourself, as is Kaepernick.
But how else might he have gotten his point across? A press conference? Sure, a few reporters would have come and written about it, but it would have been nothing more, and a few days later it would have been forgotten. By sitting down, Kaepernick grabbed all the media attention, and that of Americans; he got people talking, and that’s the biggest step, the first step, really, into trying to resolve the race issue in this country.
Oh, and before anyone says ‘What race issue,’ I’m gonna tell you, we still have a race issue. Just look at the vitriol heaped upon our first black president even before he entered office. We have a race problem in America and acting like we don’t, or denigrating those who dare speak out about it, belittling the Black Lives Matter movement or even Colin Kaepernick, is not going to help anyone.
Let me go back a bit … in New York City, in July of 1966, Sidney Street, a black New York City bus driver, heard on the radio about the shooting of James Meredith, a civil rights activist. Street was incensed that this was happening in America, and so he took an old forty-eight star flag to the street corner and began speaking about how the flag did not represent people of color; no one paid him any mind. So, Sidney Street set the flag on fire, and suddenly a small crowd gathered. His voice was heard; his anger was heard; his pain was heard.
“We don't need no damn flag ! … I burned it. If they let that happen to Meredith, we don't need no damn flag !"
Sidney Street was charged with violating the New York flag desecration statute and was subsequently found guilty. He appealed the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court saying the statute was too broad, it was too vague, and that it punished Street for burning the flag, when he had, in fact, burned it as an act of protest and that is protected by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court found the statute unconstitutional and reversed the conviction.
And that’s the same thing Kaepernick is doing; he’s protesting; he’s speaking his mind; he’s being American. And he has the support of his team, the 49ers, who released this statement:
“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Freedom of expression; trouble is, many people don’t think Kaepernick’s expression was valid because, again, he was talking about race. And that’s a subject too many of us refuse to have, refuse to face, refuse to hear. Even the National Football League [NFL] stood up for Kaepernick:
“Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem."
They say that Colin Kaepernick took a risk by taking this stand, taking a seat, during a preseason game because, right now, his spot as quarterback is not secure. I say, what better time; he’s willing to lose his job to make a statement, to make a point, to start a dialogue.
His decision has sent many fans into overload, racing all around Facebook, and other social media avenues, posting pictures of soldiers standing for the anthem; my favorite is of a soldier who apparently lost both his legs in battle and he’s “standing up” by holding his body up with his arms from a wheelchair.
People are saying that man stands, why can’t Kaepernick; I say that man stands because he fought for America and what it means to be Americans and the rights we have in America, to not stand if we so choose. To use that soldier’s picture just bolsters the argument that Kaepernick had the right not to stand. That’s America.
For his part, Colin Kaepernick acknowledged how risky his move may have been:
“I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Kaepernick, whose mother is white and whose father is black, was raised by a white couple who adopted him; he has felt the sting of racism himself. He told a story of a family vacation he took as a child and the way people treated him differently because he didn’t look like his mother and father:
“We used to go on these summer driving vacations and stay at motels, and every year, in the lobby of every motel, the same thing always happened, and it only got worse as I got older and taller. It didn’t matter how close I stood to my family, somebody would walk up to me, a real nervous manager, and say: ‘Excuse me. Is there something I can help you with?’”
He knows about seeming different, being treated differently, because of appearance, and so his protest of the black lives lost in police shootings, police run-ins, police stops, in this country, is just more of the same.
Colin Kaepernick isn’t the first athlete to speak out against racism in this country, and hopefully he won’t be the last. Last month, several Women's National Basketball Association [WNBA] players spoke to the media about the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, while wearing “Black Lives Matter: Enough Is Enough” T-shirts; later that same month, NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James opened the ESPY Awards by speaking out about violence against people of color by police:
“The system is broken, the problems are not new, the violence is not new and the racial divide definitely is not new. But, the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.” — Carmelo Anthony
That’s no different than what Colin Kaepernick did, except that he chose a game to make his stand; he chose the national anthem as the background music to his protest. And in doing so, his silence, his talking a seat, might be the loudest protest of all.
As with Sidney Street, sometimes you have to be loud, with a match, or with staying seated, to let people, know, let America know, that we still have work to do.
And we must all realize we have work to do when we realize that over sixty years after Rosa Parks refused to stand as a protest of racial inequality in the country, Colin Kaeprencik had to do the exact same thing.