By Sam Arciprete
Colin Kaepernick, backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, made headlines recently for kneeling during the national anthem at the start of a preseason game last month. This controversy has since garnered national attention, and with the protest growing larger, spreading to more teams and capturing more media attention, I question whether or not the media truly understands the point Kaepernick was trying to make when he first decided to protest the national anthem.
The media’s focus on who is joining Kaepernick in his protest has vastly overshadowed and diluted his message. Every week there are more reports both on new athletes who have decided to join Kaepernick and athletes that oppose him. This obsession about who will protest the national anthem is best parodied by “South Park” in last Wednesday’s episode. The episode began at a middle school volleyball game where the announcers speculated as to whether or not students of the girl’s middle school volleyball team would sit or stand during the national anthem. After the anthem was played and three of the students sat, the entire crowd left and then game started. This comical approach to this very serious issue highlights the fact that we are completely missing the issue Kaepernick aimed to raise about professional athletes and sports.
Former NFL player Charles Woodson raised the best point from any of the sport pundits, in my opinion, when he pointed out that Francis Scott Key, author of the national anthem, actually owned slaves. He said on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” “…[S]o now when I’m thinking about the national anthem, and I hear that line ‘the land of the free’, he wasn’t talking about me.” This quote struck me, as I believe it embodies the disenfranchisement black athletes feel in reference to the U.S. national anthem.
I also vehemently disagree with the notion that it is out of bounds to protest the national anthem. Kaepernick’s protest was thoughtful, peaceful, and reticent and yet he has been vilified as if he burned an American flag and tortured a bald eagle. It is our constitutional right to protest this country if we feel that it does not live up to the promise that it was founded on. I support Kaepernick’s protest, and I hope this protest sparks a lasting, national debate that is able to bring about actual change in this country. There is a serious problem with the way that law enforcement officials deal with minorities in this country. Many people agree with this. Many people want to do something about this. Kaepernick took a baby step towards fixing this problem by trying to get people to talk about an issue he is passionate about. However, the media is misconstruing his message and focusing on the wrong part of his protest. Throughout the 49er’s opening game on “Monday Night Football” on ESPN there was no discussion about police brutality nor about the motives behind Kaepernick’s protes.
Whether or not any substantive progress comes from this protest remains to be seen, but either way, controversy is a good way to ensure the protest is remembered. Colin Kaepernick is trying to do his part to spark a national debate, and I applaud his bravery.