In Defense of Colin Kaepernick

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Design by Kiera Burns

Ostracized for his political stance against police brutality, columnist Kiera Burns argues that it's time to let Colin Kaepernick back in the NFL.

Kiera Burns, Staff Writer

Kiera Burns, Opinion Writer

Colin Kaepernick has been out of the NFL for three years, but says he is ready to return.  In early November, he held his own workout, with seven teams in attendance, giving NFL fans and his supporters a bit of hope for a return.

He made headlines in the 2016 preseason when he began sitting, then kneeling, for the national anthem as a peaceful protest against police brutality and treatment of minorities in America. 

He drew immediate criticism from other NFL players, journalists, and fans alike. Although he was using his inarguably American 1st amendment rights, he was accused of being un-American. 

Since then, his peaceful protest has led to a ripple effect across the country of athletes participating in the same or similar protests. Megan Rapinoe, the Indiana Fever (WNBA), certain members of the Miami Dolphins, and many more have been inspired by Kaepernick’s actions. All of these protests were simply bringing awareness to an incredibly important issue: the undeniable fact that police brutality has caused the death of too many innocent African Americans. 

American activist and author James Baldwin said it best: “I love American more than any other country in the world and, for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Not only does this apply to the 1st amendment rights of free speech, expression, and assembly, but it brings up an important idea. Loving one’s country does not mean thinking the country is perfect or has no problems to solve. Just because Colin Kaepernick is criticizing an issue in American society, does not mean that he doesn’t love America. 

The NFL is inherently American, but so is free speech.  Some of the most important American heroes of history were activists and protesters who called out the wrongs in American society with the hope of improving the country. One of the biggest issues facing American society is police brutality. 

Now, it is true that there are some uncertainties in terms of what happened during Kaepernick’s recent workout.  He moved the location at the last minute, and there were inconsistent rumors of a contract he had to sign. To be fair, I nor the rest of the public have enough facts or evidence to truly analyze what happened that day. 

That is not the aspect of the story I wish to focus on. My point is that it brought up old arguments about Kaepernick’s ability to return, and arguments against teams signing him. And honestly, many them had nothing to do with football. Many called Kaepernick’s protests a distraction, many think he has been gone too long, many want to avoid political conflict. But if Colin Kaepernick is truly NFL-ready as he says he is, I believe any team would be lucky to have him bare their colors. 

As a clearly biased and fed-up-with-Mitch Trubisky Bears fan, I would be lying if I had not thought about the concept of Kaepernick coming to Chicago. But if he does return, I will honestly be happy with any team. 

I believe Colin Kaepernick was not only justified but honorable for using his platform to stand up for what is right. Police brutality is much more “un-American” than kneeling for the anthem. 

What is more American than a strong statement about equality in American society using the inherited American NFL as a platform?”

To those who call Kaepernick un-American, I would like to ask: What is more American than a strong statement about equality in American society using the inherited American NFL as a platform?  What is more American than free speech and freedom of expression? What is more American than standing up for our long-held ideal of liberty and justice for all? 

Although NFL publicly gave the players the “option” to stay in the locker room for the anthem, this does have the same effect as a protest as kneeling. What is the point of making a statement if it is made in an empty locker room? I believe some of, if not the whole point of kneeling was to make a public statement – to address the nation. He had a platform, and used it.

In 2016 (the last year when Kaepernick was in the NFL) an average of 16.5 million Americans watched each game. With that kind of audience, it was not only justified but admirable that Kaepernick made the statements that he did. 

To those who do not agree with his form of protesting, you absolutely have the right to your opinion. You can hold the belief that standing for the anthem is the only proper thing to do. 

However, Kaepernick also has the right to protest the way he wishes. The national anthem is a song. It is an important one, and may “represent the country”, but there is nothing about sitting during the playing of the anthem that automatically correlates to something un-American. Does the anthem deserve respect? Absolutely. But did Colin continue to hold that respect throughout his protest? Again, absolutely. 

I would like to emphasize the fact that Colin always meant it to be respectful. Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s former teammate who joined him in his protest, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times and described how they choose this form of protest:

“After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy”. 

If you are among those who object to Kaepernick’s actions, I would ask you to read Reid’s op-ed and consider the amount of respect they put into their protest. This is not some spur of the moment gesture insulting America. This is carefully planned peaceful gesture made on an incredibly wide scale, and NFL fans should recognize that. 

Colin Kaepernick last played in the NFL in 2016. Used with permission from KateLord on Flickr

In essence, while the anthem is important and meaningful to our country, actions speak louder than words. America is not some idealistic society with “liberty and justice for all” that it often claims to be. Thankfully, people like Colin Kaepernick are fighting to get there. 

I truly hope we do one day – and as soon as possible. Police brutality is one of the most pressing issues our society faces. Minorities still face an incredible amount of discrimination.

African Americans should not have to fear being pulled over. They should not have to fear walking alone at night.  They should not have to deal with constant criticism for standing up for inherited American ideas and liberties they deserve yet often are not given. So many of these people’s voices are hindered by American Society. For someone with a base that Kaepernick has, it is admirable to bring these issues to a base that may not understand them. 

Overall, I think the Kaepernick issue is important today because it reflects a larger issue in American society. Kaepernick wanted to bring attention to an incredibly important issue of violence and inequality in America. However, this didn’t happen. Instead, he was criticized. He received all the attention and most of it was negative.

Although the public reaction brought some attention to the police brutality issue, it brought more attention to these minute, insignificant debates.”

For the most part, more awareness about police brutality and racial inequality was not created. People still debate whether Kaepernick should have knelt. They debate whether the NFL should allow it, or weather players should be disciplined. They debate the idea of staying in the locker room. They debate about VP Mike Pence walking out a Colts game in which players knelt.

I still think Kaepernick was 100% justified in his actions. However, I am incredibly disheartened by the public reaction. Although it brought some attention to the police brutality issue, it brought more attention to these minute, insignificant debates. This just goes to show how many Americans are unaware or apathetic about some of the most important issues facing their country. Essentially, Kaepernick’s protests sparked discussion on many things, but not enough discussion about the right things. 

It’s time to check our privilege. Just because you aren’t faced with violence and discrimination in the way that others are in society doesn’t mean you get to be unaware of how these issues affect others. It doesn’t mean you can discount a citizen’s free speech simply because you disagree with his specific method of protest. It is our duty as Americans to try and create the best, most equal society as possible. 

Again, you don’t have to like the idea of kneeling for the anthem. It is understandable to be taken aback by it at first, but the objections to Kaepernick choosing to exercise his first amendment rights peacefully and respectfully are simply uncalled for.

I wholeheartedly support Colin Kaepernick. I truly ask you to respect his choice, to understand why he made it, and to reflect on the larger issues Kaepernick’s treatment represents in American society.