In The Land of the Free Anyone Can Choose to Take Knee

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick made a life-changing decision that would simultaneously ruin his American-football career and shift his focus to altruism.

Kaepernick chose to sit while the national anthem was being played before a football game. When asked about his decision to sit during the anthem, Kaepernick replied:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Surprising Support

His actions, coupled with his rationale, stirred the racial pot in America. It spurred a wide-reaching debate about how he protested, why he protested, and whether or not how he chose to do it was respectful.

In spite of the controversy, the 49ers released a statement in support of his decision:

The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.

The coach himself was later quoted as saying, that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem is “his right as a citizen”. He also added, “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”

Take a Knee

A few months later, teammate Eric Reid felt moved to talk to Kaepernick about his protest. He wanted to know how he could help, and what he could do to further the movement.

The two then decided that next time they would kneel during the anthem, rather than stand, to show respect intermingled with dissatisfaction. Reid recently published his side of the story, where he boldly says:

It should go without saying that I love my country and I’m proud to be an American. But, to quote James Baldwin, “exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

I am aware that my involvement in this movement means that my career may face the same outcome as Colin’s. But to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And I choose not to betray those who are being oppressed.

…it’s disheartening and infuriating that [the] President has referred to us with slurs but the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., as “very fine people.” 

A Shift in Focus

While America and the rest of the world speculated about his career move, Kaepernick shifted his focus to philanthropy. In the fall of 2016 he pledged that he would donate $100,000 for 10 months to support the alleviation of social issues

On August 23rd 2017, NY Daily News estimated that Kaepernick had donated $800,000 since that pledge. Kaepernick himself confirmed this when he tweeted:

Where has this money gone so far? According to Sports Illustrated:

He has donated to Meals on Wheels, a charity that gives suits to parolees and to famine relief in Somalia, among dozens of other charities. 

Kapernick has also gotten involved in the community first-hand, hosting a “Know Your Rights Camp” in cities around the country to inspire youth and teach them about proper interactions with law enforcement. 

Despite a successful closeout to his 2016 football season, and a commitment to philanthropy, Kaepernick officially opted out of his contract with the 49ers, and has remained unsigned since.

While many teams dance around the issue of whether or not to work with him, estimates say that the athlete moving the most merchandise out of NFL stores is none other than the so-called most hated NFL player — while unemployed!

Why Now?

So if all this happened a whole year ago, you might be wondering why it’s just now exploded. After all, Kaepernick started his protests under the presidency of Barack Obama and received no threatening remarks from President 44 for his actions.

The current President was not as understanding, and during a speech in Alabama, he gave the NFL and their players, a piece of his mind. He complained that the players who chose to kneel were ruining the game, and that they should all be fired.

But what really tipped the boat was when he added, on video:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired, he’s fired.

Since then, Reid and Kaepernick’s decision to kneel has regained its spotlight in the media, and even has its own hashtag on Twitter: #TakeAKnee. This has brought both an increase in backlash and support.

Fighting Back

Since Taking a Knee is Disrespectful

The most controversial response came from the Steelers, who chose to exercise the old tradition of remaining in their locker rooms during the national anthem. Whether they knelt, stood, or danced inside, no one really knows.

This created a bit of a bind for the people who insisted that taking a knee was disrespectful to the flag, and the anthem. As one tweep put it:

And another:

Since Taking a Knee Creates Disunity

When the backlashers went on to say that the decision was creating disunity, football players responded by locking arms during the national anthem. Many knelt during this time; but even more impressive is the fact that teams remained with arms locked together, even when some chose to stand, and some chose to kneel.

Photo Credit: CNN

One NFL executive responded to this, saying, “If [the President] thought he could divide the NFL, he was wrong.”

Since Taking a Knee Disrespects Veterans

Many veterans and their family members also took to social media to declare their support for Kaepernick’s right to protest — whether they were in agreement with his message, or not. The most impressive came from a 97-year-old WWII vet.

If Not This — Then What?

Kaepernick very clearly explained in early 2016 that he was protesting police brutality and prejudice against “people of color”. But obviously, those who do not support his cause are singing a totally different tune.

Eric Reid, himself, addresses this issue in his published piece on the NY Times. He says:

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.

Some might point out that something that is not intentional wrong, can be wrong all the same, and this is true. But as one Twitter user posted earlier this week, “If not this way, then how?”

Blacks and other minorities trying to raise awareness have forever been met by hostility. This is true even when the messenger is Queen Bey, whilst performing at Super Bowl.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been branded “the Black KKK”. And meanwhile, the actual KKK recently regained its confidence and took to the streets.

I’ll be the first to point out that both sides has some misguided people in their midst, but it’s important to focus on the message and the real issue at hand. We cannot afford to become distracted by semantics, personal discomfort, and a few bad apples.

Supporting True Democracy

America has always prided itself on being the land of the free — supported by rights and freedoms. Whether or not I agree with Kaepernick’s message, I do believe it’s important to accept his right to protest in any peaceful way he chooses.

That is democracy, especially in a simultaneously multicultural and segregated society where everyone won’t always agree. In fact, will we ever? One Twitter user summed this up best when he quoted J. Kander:

Are you an Ostrich?

Still, many people remain tight-lipped about the social issues and resulting protest. Others open their mouths to discredit the fact that these issues exist, and to complain that politics has worked its way too far into social media and the football field.

What I’ve learned from the past 2 years of enduring this in America — as a Black, female immigrant — is that the people who are most content to bury their heads in the sand and wait for discontent to blow over are usually the people who are not directly affected by inequality.

They will do charity runs for cancer when their wife succumbs to the illness; or join a women’s march in D.C., when they are the one discriminated against in the office because of their gender.

But then turn a blind eye to instances when someone else is the victim. Most of these people consider themselves to be inherently good, but to reiterate Reid’s quoting of Martin Luther King Jr.:

A time comes when silence is betrayal

So while a lot of Americans continue to debate everything from the veracity of race-baited police brutality to whether or not  Kaepernick’s form of protest is respectful — I’ve been enjoying my own private joke.

Today, I’ll share it with you:

If I could name two Americans in 2017 who have actively and consistently put brains, brawn, and bank accounts toward MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, I would name Barack Obama and Colin Kaepernick.

Alexis Chateau Black Cat

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