Colin Kaepernick started a movement when he refused to stand for the U.S. flag and anthem before a game. But his stand was also met with outrage. It’s controversial to politicize the few symbols which unify a nation.
At a game in August 2016 Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, sat during the national anthem as a protest against police killings. Since 2015 a number of deaths of young black men during police arrests have been the cause of renewed debate about inner city crime, police education and procedures, and racial issues in America.
Kaepernick decided to stand up for what the Black Lives Matter movement has described as “victims of unaccountable police murders” in sitting down or kneeling during the singing of the anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he explained.
Over the last three months other professional athletes have also chosen not to stand for the national anthem. According to ThinkProgress, in November 2016 the protests have spread to “at least 48 NFL players, nine NBA teams, 14 WNBA players, one gold medal swimmer, one pro women’s soccer player, 52 high schools, 39 colleges, one middle school, and two youth football teams in 35 states across the United States”.
There is a long history in the U.S. of sports figures using their position to make political statements. While obviously having the right to express himself freely, Kaepernick has been criticized for explaining his stance at a press conference wearing a shirt with an image of Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro, a notorious enemy of free speech. According to teleSUR, Kaepernick announced that he did not vote in the November 2016 election “as that would have been a show of support for a system of oppression”.
Kaepernick, it has been noted, speaks from a position of very little oppression, himself being a succesfull and very well-payed black man. 29-year old Colin Kaepernick is the son of a white woman and a black man who left the family before Colin’s birth. He was given up for adoption and raised by a white family living in Wisconsin, later California.
In September at a CNN presidential town hall President Barack Obama commented, saying that he respects Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem:
“Well, as I’ve said before, I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation. But I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion.”
“The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, to freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard,” he continued. “We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with.”
At big sports events in the U.S. it is tradition that everyone present stand for the national anthem. The U.S. flag will always be displayed in some form. The solemnity of the moment would also imply respect for fallen service men and women and confirm an unspoken collective commitment to the unity of a diverse nation.
President Obama was clearly mindful of this when, on CNN, he addressed the issue of the protesters who refuse to stand for the flag:
“I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat.”
This is part 3 in a series on American flag culture, November 2016. Read also:
The Rainbow Flag
The Thin Blue Line
Remarkably Few U.S. Flags At Protests, Flag Burnings Reported