Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you’ve by now heard that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has decided to sit on the bench during the national anthem for the indefinite future as his way to protest “racial oppression” in America.
Every time a celebrity or professional athlete does something like this, the Internet is immediately overrun by hot takes on both sides of the issue. In Kaepernick’s case, his detractors immediately cried that his protest was somehow disrespectful to the military, which doesn’t really make a ton of sense; the national anthem isn’t a military anthem or a song about honoring the military specifically – it’s a song of pride for the whole nation. Refusing to stand for it isn’t disrespectful of the military in particular, it’s disrespectful of the whole country as an abstract concept – which is sort of Colin Kaepernick’s point.
Kaepernick’s defenders meanwhile have objected to criticism of Kaepernick my claiming that Kaepernick has a free speech right to say whatever he wants. That’s true, but the right of free speech only means that the government can’t punish you for speech – and it also means that people who are big on showing respect for the national anthem can drown Kaepernick in a deafening chorus of biting criticism, if they want. That’s how free speech works.
I don’t really have strong feelings one way or another on Kaepernick’s protest. I don’t have a major problem with Kaepernick taking a stand against perceived injustice and I think some of the arguments against his protest are kind of silly. For instance, people seem to think that it’s improper for Kaepernick in particular to engage in this protest because, as a professional athlete, he will likely make more this year than the average white person does in their entire lifetime. I mean, I guess that’s true, but that’s kind of how protests work – if you aren’t rich and/or famous, the chances that any protest you engage in will get noticed are virtually nil. Kaepernick is doing this specifically because he is rich and famous, because he realizes that his being rich and famous provides an opportunity to start a conversation that ordinary schleps don’t get.
However, if I did have a problem with Kaepernick’s protest, I would not react to it the way some people currently are. Kaepernick right now is on the way to playing himself into a bench spot behind Blaine Gabbert in spite of his massive contract. As I just noted, he is clearly trying to use his position as a starting quarterback playing in the most watched sport in the world to get people talking about this issue. The level of vitriol directed at Kaepernick, complete with jersey burning, insults and wild anger, provide an excuse for the media to keep talking about the issue, and the protest, which is exactly what Kaepernick wants.
So go on, boo Kaepernick if you want. If he spends the whole season hearing a chorus of boos every time he touches the ball, I suppose that’s really the risk Kaepernick takes by protesting something by dissing the national anthem. But the public game of trying to one-up everyone else’s outrage on social media about what a football player does or doesn’t do during the national anthem just plays right into Kaepernick’s hands.