Barring a few notable gaffes every year, the national anthem rings loud and proud around sports stadiums spanning the nation. Last month, however, the star spangled banner elicited protests from NFL player Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, who refused to stand for the anthem as a statement on racism in America.

While we recognize the protests made by Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as pivotal in the movement to secure rights for minorities, when a person of color voices grievances today similar in content to those made 50 years ago, they are received by the largely deaf ears of the American public.  

By no means is it possible to equate Kaepernick to any of the three aforementioned individuals — that would be incredibly preemptive and a bit absurd. With this said, the discussion he has created surrounding the treatment of minorities is an important dialogue that is crucial in creating a more inclusive society, both here in Madison and throughout the entire country.

Freedom of speech, enumerated in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, is not a privilege the government, or the citizens of this country, can assign to certain groups of people or take away from others. It is a blanket right that encapsulates the vast majority of ideas and opinions held by the population of this country, including the very real fact that minorities are oppressed by inherent racism.

The hypocrisy of those speaking out in condemnation of Kaepernick’s choice to sit during the national anthem is preposterous. Whether one sits or stands is an individual choice that doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the individual’s feelings toward the country, the people who serve it or what it stands for.

It is important to realize the decision to remain seated during the anthem does not make Kaepernick any less American or any more contemptuous towards the nation as a whole, as many of those in disagreement with his actions are spouting on any social media that gives them enough characters to do so.

I would argue instead that it means the opposite. Kaepernick has been fortunate enough to find himself on a platform that millions of Americans look to each Sunday, and he has chosen to use it to speak out against the injustices minorities deal with daily.

With this issue brought to the forefront of national news, the general public has grown uneasy, feeling threatened by the man who is asking them to change their attitudes toward minorities. Instead of acknowledging the issues Kaepernick has brought to light, people are fighting back with claims that he is disrespecting our veterans, or they’re throwing a fit because Kaepernick lost the starting job to Blaine Gabbert.

While there’s no denying Kaepernick is most likely not thrilled about being benched, it’s ridiculous that the majority of this nation’s first instinct when someone voices racial injustices is to combat them with personal attacks. Considering that the very foundation this country was built on centers around the acceptance of persecuted minorities, it’s pathetic that in 2016 we as a society are more apt to ignore racism than to accept that it exists and it needs to be dealt with.

Colin Kaepernick may not be this generation’s Martin Luther King Jr. — who knows how long he will continue protesting or if anything will come of it other than the massive amount of backlash it has generated thus far. I do hope, however, people will begin seeing his claims not as the selfish, attention seeking ploys but for the valid arguments they present: This country is not doing everything in its power to ensure minorities the rights they deserve. Don’t brush this off as a celebrity stunt — it’s part of a movement.

Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and international studies.