EDITORIAL: Ridiculed today, revered tomorrow
Athletes like Colin Kaepernick face backlash for protest
The American flag is a symbol for a plethora of subjective tropes that represent quintessentially American things — the country, the culture and the people. It is a portmanteau filled with the values that the country stands for, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as capitalism, democracy and equality among many others, and for a country that holds its moral standards high, the lofty ideals it strives for set it apart from those that audaciously and unabashedly trample on human rights and human life. Naturally, the American flag and the values it’s associated with are a source of American pride, but what happens when the country falls short on those promises? Should we simply turn a blind eye and still pretend to be proud?
The Colin Kaepernick controversy shows that freedom of speech is only acceptable when it's convenient and supports a certain point of view. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback has been the target of vitriol for protesting this era of police brutality by refusing to stand during America's national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner." He asserts that he does not want to show pride in a flag that oppresses people of color, and it would be selfish on his part to look the other way when there are bodies laying on the street and people getting paid leave after committing murder. For highlighting America’s shortcomings, Kaepernick has gotten immense backlash and has been regularly accused of being unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans. But in contrast, sports events commonly have people begrudgingly and lazily stand up during the anthem, drinking beers, burping and farting and there is no backlash against how those actions could be disrespectful. Kaepernick shows that most people would rather attack the messenger than the message.
But why should he stand up for the flag and the national anthem by Francis Scott Key that celebrates black people’s deaths — his people’s deaths? Most are only familiar with the first verse of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but an article from The Intercept sheds light on the third verse that states, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the gave.” The writer, Francis Scott Key, expresses satisfaction from the death of black slaves who fought for the British side that promised to free them as opposed to maintaining their bleak status in America as perpetual indentured servants. Where is the life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness there? Failing to act in blanket and blind support, Kaepernick is against the systematic and brutal deaths of people of color that is committed with paid immunity — a glaring societal failure — and just because he does not stand up for the flag does not also mean he is against all of what Americans believe in. He is not suddenly an anti-American, communist, undemocratic traitor (as much as some believe him to be).
Perhaps the scenario might have been different if a different person had taken up the cause — an exponentially more famous star athlete. As a second-string quarterback, the masses don’t find Kaepernick as important as first-string quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
Regardless, Kaepernick is following the footsteps of other athletes that protested injustices and became iconic later on. They might have been denigrated during their time, but the remarkable protests of athletes such as Muhammad Ali — who refused to fight in Vietnam as part of the anti-war movement — and Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who stood on top of the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City with the Black Power salute are all esteemed athletic, political and social players today. Kaepernick just might be ahead of his time, and the rest of society is just trailing behind.
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