While I was out of town this weekend, on a marathon run to Monterey County to celebrate my 30th reunion with the amazing Alisal High Class of ’86, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers took a seat and started a controversy. I heard about it immediately, when my NFL app fed me the news bulletin. I saw the backlash immediately, too, on the social media platforms I follow. Many spoke out instantly with disdain for his actions and for the words Colin Kaepernick chose afterwards to explain his actions. My own reactions were mixed and I decided to let the thing play out a little, while I enjoyed the weekend. I did.
My initial thought, and the one I shared with the lovely companion I had along on the ride, was this: I had no problem whatsoever with what Colin Kaepernick did, but I thought he was dumb for doing it. My thoughts on the matter have evolved from my initial reaction, as thoughts should, but they haven’t necessarily changed. I still stand firmly behind the actions of the sitting QB, but I’ll watch with interest before I judge the man.
Why I defend his right to take a seat during the national anthem should be pretty obvious; I believe in the rights of people over the rights of nations. I adhere to the philosophy that a person has a right to peaceably protest in any manner that they choose. I believe that every topic can be viewed from multiple perspectives and, because of that, I think we need to be tolerant of multiple points of view. I also believe inequality is an issue in this country – on this planet – and that needs to be addressed. So if a man wants to take a seat to protest his perception that the issue of inequality is not being properly addressed, kudos to him.
Why my initial reaction was that Colin Kaepernick was dumb for taking this stance is a bit more complicated and, probably, unfair to him. I viewed the man as a privileged athlete with a lot to lose, and I saw him as an individual who had – to my knowledge – never taken a stand like this before. I questioned, internally, whether or not he was doing this to bring awareness to a cause or doing this to get attention, and if he truly understood the implications of this action. He painted a target on himself, and became a martyr for a cause that I wasn’t aware that he believed in. He was shooting his career in the foot and I wasn’t sure that he was prepared for the aftermath.
But that was hubris on my part. To assume that I know anything about the struggles another man has gone through, inside his own self, to get to the point where he takes such a stand, well that is arrogance. I don’t know what led Colin Kaepernick to decide to sit during the national anthem and I don’t know what he will do next, now that he has. If he has thrown himself on the sword and expects that to be all he has to do then my initial reaction stands. If, however, this action is only the beginning and Colin Kaepernick becomes a champion in the fight against inequality then my initial reaction was wrong.
Regardless, it was his choice and I defend that choice. The song he sat through repeats the line “land of the free and home of the brave” four times in the full version, and Colin Kaepernick bravely exercised a freedom. He risked a great public and professional backlash to make what he feels was a necessary stance. We should honor that. We should wait a little longer before placing judgments on the character of the man. We should honor the constitutional rights that he has, that are echoed in the very song that he sat through. We should watch his actions now.
If he ducks and dodges, racing out of bounds, then we can judge his actions unworthy. If he stands tall against the rush and continues to deliver strikes against injustice, then we can judge his actions noble. Either way we should judge his actions as free, and defend his right to make them, while that banner yet waves.
I think that is what America is supposed to be about.