Sit down, Colin Kaepernick

Critics are quick to jump on Colin Kaepernick for his recent choice of public statement to protest the oppression of people of color. The use of dissent, to differ in a popular opinion, as a tool for change, though, has a long and respected history. The fact that Kaepernick has the right to dissent is rooted in protests dating back several centuries. For example, the creation of the Magna Carta, the Protestant Revolution, the American Revolution, abolition of slavery in the United States, the independence of India, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the American civil rights and marriage equality movements were all part of a long list of sweeping leaps of human progress brought about, in part, by a few simply refusing to go along with what society expects of them.

Dissent drives reform and progress. It gives voice to the powerless and to those wanting change. By using his influence – the fact that a massive audience is tuned in – Kaepernick is drawing attention to a crucial issue he feels is not being effectively addressed. Many other public leaders have also commented on Kaepernick’s comments on the issue.

“The main thing Kaepernick has accomplished is to inflame an engrossing debate and serve as a reminder that dissent is a form of patriotism, too,” wrote Sally Jenkins in The Washington Post.  In the same column she also asked if coerced loyalty isn’t a contradiction in terms.

“He has influence as an NFL player. He has started a conversation,” posted Nick Sundberg, Washington Redskins player, engaging with fans on Twitter. Sundberg also pointed out Kaepernick’s record of civic involvement and $1,000,000 donation pledge, as evidence of Kaepernick putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak.

“The highest form of patriotism, as I see it, is to do something for your country that is against your self-interest, narrowly understood, based on the belief that you are acting in the best interest of your country,” wrote Sean Wright in Daily Kos. “Such acts of patriotism include giving one’s money or time to a cause they believe will improve the country, risking one’s life for one’s country, and, yes, speaking truth to power, particularly when doing so puts ones life, livelihood or freedom at risk.”

There is no question that Kaepernick has risked his livelihood, whatever fan base he had and potentially his entire future professional career. That’s a big deal. Could it be that what he has to say is worth listening to and talking about, more than what his form of protest means to anyone else?

There are many in this nation who view our flag as a sacred symbol and the rituals surrounding it as forms of devotion. They perceive any impropriety in those rituals as blasphemous and an insult to those who serve in the military.

Perhaps Kaepernick feels just as deeply about the issue and the way he expresses his unrest was chosen deliberately to reflect the depth of those feelings. It is appropriate to reject the rituals devoted to a sacred object that he has come to see as a lie. It makes sense for him to feel betrayed, cheated and conned.

None of that is a reflection on those who have fought for those ideals in foreign lands or on those who fight to keep the peace here at home. It has nothing to do with them. The only people who should take offense to Kaepernick’s statement are the ones who are violating the sacred trust symbolized by the flag and the principles it represents.

He’s not disrespecting the flag, or those who have fought and died over the ideals it represents. He’s saying that our flag is disgraced instead by the failure of its representatives to live up to its promise – the promise of liberty and justice for all.


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