Sitting or Standing for What’s Right

San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat during the playing of the “The Star Spangled Banner” before a pre-season game.

When asked why he didn’t stand, Kaepernick’s answer was straightforward:

He said, “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.”

In response to Kaepernick’s action, the media and others went on a tear. Hate filled messages poured out calling him a traitor, saying he disrespected the country and those in the military. A man uses his celebrity status to draw attention to the epidemic of police violence in this country and instead of dealing with the issues he raised of the reality of police violence and the murder of young Black men by the police – he is attacked.

In Chicago alone, there were 435 police shootings from 2010 through 2015 and 92 people were killed and 170 wounded. Four out of five people shot were Black. This is the reality across this country. This is what people should be outraged about, not the fact that Kaepernick didn’t keep silent and just provide entertainment for the fans!

Those who attack Kaepernick, say it is anti-American to speak the truth and challenge the functioning of this system. They want silence in the face of racist violence; in the face of the wars; in the face of the hypocrisy of this society.

It was the same when Muhammad Ali took a stand against racism and the U.S. war on Viet Nam. He was stripped of his title. We saw the same when U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested racism during the 1968 Olympics. Or when Toronto Blue Jays Carlos Delgado sat in the dugout during the playing of “God Bless America” as a statement against the U.S. war on Iraq. They were also attacked and some sacrificed their careers.

Kaepernick knows the risks. But, as he said, it’s not about him. It’s about the reality of this country. It’s about a nation that prides itself on celebrating freedom and equality but refuses to recognize and respond to the brutal realities of racism.

In a way it is about Kaepernick and what he represents. Given the silence that is imposed on athletes, to keep their heads down and “play the game”, this is not a small thing. Given the role models professional athletes provide for young people, his actions are important. Last week he was joined, by his teammate Eric Reid, a 49er safety and the next day by Seahawks cornerback, Jeremy Lane. Because of their celebrity status, they can give voice to the millions who have been silenced by the racist violence of this society.

Kaepernick has every right to draw attention to this reality. Those who burn his jersey and wrap themselves in the flag, claiming a love for the freedoms this country says it represents, don’t want to face the realties of life for many people in the U.S. today. They want to use the spectacle of professional sports as an escape from these realities. The famous African-American poet Langston Hughes addressed the question of what we think America is, nearly 80 years ago in his poem “Let America be America Again.” It is worth reading.