About midway through August of 2016, in the third preseason game of the young NFL season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, did not stand during the National Anthem. Kaepernick, after leading his team to two consecutive NFC Championships and a Super Bowl appearance in 2014, had fallen off leading into this season. He expereinced some problems with his throwing arm, and eventually lost his starting position. Nonetheless, Kaepernick not standing during the National Anthem made huge headlines all over the country. The 49ers final preseason game was against the San Diego Chargers, in which the Chargers would host their annual commemoration of military members. Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem of this game.
His protest is a result of his unhappiness with the treatment of African Americans among the recent police brutality scenes around the country. He has kneeled throughout the National Anthem in each of the first four games of the NFL season so far; despite still not having seen action on the field yet, Kaepernick’s protest is being heard. Athletes in women’s international soccer, preseason basketball, and many other NFL players are also kneeling, sitting, or performing other acts of protest as the national anthem is played. Some teams, however, are doing the opposite. Baseball teams and football teams have shown their unity and support during the National Anthem by standing and interlocking their arms.
Kaepernick said that he will not stand for the National Anthem until he sees an improvement in “the oppression of black people.” It was first a controversial statement because while many people supported his protest, others were questioning why he was not supporting the movement himself. Kaepernick responded by donating a portion of his salary to various charities and “Black Lives Matter” organizations throughout the country.
Kaepernick’s actions have been praised by some and berated by others. The people who disagree with his protest claim that if he wants to see change in the oppression of African Americans, he should actually perform acts of change. Some people say this is the wrong way to carry out a protest with this kind of purpose; kneeling during the national anthem is not synonymous with giving speeches or performing community service in the areas to which his protest is referring. If he wants to get the word out, there are better ways to do that than kneeling. It can also be seen as disrespectful to our country and to the brave men and women who have fought and died for our country.
Regardless of what these “haters” are saying, though, Kaepernick has definitely succeeded in one thing: spreading the word. His actions made headlines across the country; although some people think he just wants attention and are pushing this to the side, most people are noticing. He has stirred the pot on a matter which a lot of us tend to try to avoid discussing. He has gotten people talking, and this just might be exactly what he planned to do. Obviously, Colin Kaepernick cannot resolve racial issues on his own; he realized it was going to take everyone acting together as a unit, and decided to start kneeling during the National Anthem. As mentioned before, many other athletes have followed his lead and done the same, not just in protest to racial oppression, but also towards homosexuality and domestic violence.
Being an athlete is tough. Looking beyond being overpaid, they put their bodies through rigorous workouts that most of us could never imagine doing once, let alone each day of the week. However, on a more societal level, being an athlete means that everyone in your city is counting on you, every little kid is looking up to you, and the media is watching your every move so they can fill their news stations with stories. Athletes are sometimes forced into very uncomfortable situations which they seem to handle with ease, but never really get any credit for doing so. It takes a whole lot of courage and intestinal fortitude to do what Kaepernick did. Protesting such a delicate subject on a stage as large as his is going to have its drawbacks: people wanting you to play the sport and not be worried about political issues, people thinking you’re unpatriotic for kneeling during our nations anthem, the list goes on and on. Sometimes, though, an athlete is a symbol; they can use their fame and power to represent their ideals in ways that nobody else can, which is most likely why Kaepernick felt the need to protest in the way that he did.
At the end of the day, Kaepernick is going to keep kneeling until he sees change. We do not know what constitutes his definition of change, nor do we know if things will ever change. But he got us talking. He did what many athletes did not have the courage to do, and he used the biggest stage to do so. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on Kaepernick’s actions; whether he is right or wrong in his execution of a protest can be debated forever without a winning argument. What cannot be debated, however, is that Colin Kaepernick’s expression of freedom in sports is one that will not soon be forgotten.