Colin Kaepernick has been excluded from the NFL for three years. It’s not because he was a bad player — in fact, Kaepernick was a great quarterback who made it to a Superbowl, and two NFC championships. There are plenty of quarterbacks less deserving of a starting spot than him. It’s also not because he got out of shape. Someone close to Kaepernick said, “He’s been working out five days a week at 5a.m. for three years.”
It’s because of his politics. Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest the pervasive racism in America.
“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 said.
His kneeling coincided with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and his protests gained more traction with the election of Trump, who has been quoted calling white nationalists “very fine people.” Kaepernick quickly became a figurehead for activists nationwide.
The protests were bad for the NFL’s business. Many fans saw his protest as un-American and disrespectful toward the flag many soldiers had fought and died for. Some even elected to boycott NFL games, which reduced the owner’s profits.
It made financial sense to owners to leave Kaepernick as a free agent, but it makes no sense morally. Are we to live our life by money or by what we believe in? By numbers on a page or what we know to be right and wrong in our hearts and minds? Kaepernick chose to be a free and unabashedly loud advocate for meaningful and needed change.
Because of that, he has been called un-American, and football has become a battleground for what qualifies as an American value. On one side, Kaepernick is protesting because he believes, even after the Civil Rights movement, white and black people are still not equal. On the other side, his detractors are upset because he is rude toward those who died to fight for freedom.
Essentially, they’re upset about the same thing — freedom. Kaepernick believes people of color in America have not had the same benefits of that freedom, while others believe Kaepernick is ungrateful because he already has the same amount of freedom.
It is made very clear in the documents of our founding that the most important American value is freedom, and every other right and privilege granted to Americans was granted to protect that value. In that way, both sides are as American as it gets.
Everyone came at this issue with what is quintessentially American in mind — a deep respect for freedom — but their differing perspectives drove them apart.
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My perspective is that Kaepernick has a point, and his story is symptomatic of problems evident in football and in America. These symptoms include free speech being impeded by notions of politeness, and people of color being punished unfairly.
The biggest argument against Kaepernick’s protests is kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful.
Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 students and injured 17 more and was taken into custody unharmed by the police. 12 year old Tamir Rice was immediately shot by a police officer for playing with a toy gun.
What separates these people? Those who didn’t get shot on sight were white and the ones who did were black. This happens far too often for it to be a series of accidents and misjudgments.
The justice system in the United States is not the same for white people and people of color. Kaepernick is exercising his right to free speech to advocate against this injustice. But rather than focusing on protecting innocent lives, people are concerned with how this might disrespect soldiers.
If the status quo is less than ideal, as America’s justice system is now, change is needed. And some amount of disrespect is necessary when working toward changing the status quo. And as Kaepernick is fighting for freedom too, I think his disrespect is completely understandable.
Regardless his protests have caused him to receive punishment worse than he deserves. Kaepernick was being civilly disobedient, decided to become a free agent, and has been treated like he has the plague ever since. No team will take him because of what he has done.
NFL lineman Richie Incognito has a history of bullying and foul play. He has even threatened to kill workers at a funeral home for not letting him take his father’s head for “research purposes.” But regardless, he has never been banned and currently plays for the Oakland Raiders.
Is kneeling equivalent to anti-social, borderline criminal behavior? Even if it was, that behavior wasn’t punished by the NFL for so long. What makes Kaepernick any different?
He was never suspended. He can be signed, and he can make a difference. The NFL has tried to continue repressing him because he is bad for ratings, but what’s worse for ratings is keeping good players out of the league. He can perform, and he is hungry to showcase his talents. Why not let him? If the owners of NFL teams have a single shred of moral fiber in them, they should give him another chance.
Football, and sports in general, has the ability to unite people and communities. It’s so much more than a game. The stadium, or even just the couch, are places where people put all differences aside to support their team. The NFL should use the power of sports to help people come together, regardless of the money they lose in the short term. If it doesn’t, the League is complicit in keeping America fractured along racial lines.
Harry Quick ([email protected]) is a freshman studying economics.