Protests and Patriotism

Beginning in August of 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, began a national anthem protest. Over the next 13 months, players from various teams in the NFL began sitting, kneeling and speaking out in acts joining Kaepernick. On August 26, 2016, Kaepernick exclaimed, “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.” Players, coaches, general managers, owners and the president of our country were quick to fire back at Kaepernick stating it was a disgrace not to stand for your country.

Many people have different viewpoints when it comes to Colin Kaepernick’s actions to fight racism. Some people view his actions as a way to peacefully protest the shootings of unarmed Black men and brutality in our country, while other people view his actions as a sign of utmost disrespect towards the United States veterans that have fought and risked their lives. After listening and hearing both sides, I decided to sit down with a close friend of mine in the Marines to gain knowledge on his insights and opinions.

He was first quick to vocalize that Colin Kaepernick and many other NFL players were able to stand up for their beliefs because the United States has freedom of speech. He went further to explain that he found it offensive to the people who are fighting and have fought for our country. They are the ones who risk their lives in order for us to live in a country that has rights and freedom of speech. However, he acknowledged that we do live in a country that oppresses minorities giving them unequal rights. Our country does need to take steps to fight racism, but he does not believe that Kaepernick used to right platform in order to do so. After our conversation had ended, I had what seemed like a hundred questions racing in my brain, such as if Kaepernick did not stand up for his rights appropriately, then what would be considered the right platform to fight racism?

My hometown happens to be a very close knit community, and I know many veterans and families that have sons and daughters serving in the military that now refuse to watch any NFL related broadcasts. Most recently, many of my neighbors and friends are Philadelphia Eagles fans, and they still refused to turn on their television to watch the Super Bowl this year. Newscasts and radio stations can be still be heard discussing racial controversies in the NFL. It seems everyone has something to say about the matter despite the protests beginning over a year ago. The media has sensationalized the events that took place to make it as controversial as possible with one of the main controversial discussions being whether kneeling during the national anthem was “a matter of race” or “a matter of patriotism”. To many Americans, being patriotic means being White.

But what does it really mean to be patriotic? By definition, patriotism means caring so deeply about your country that you take it as your duty to hold it accountable to its highest values and to fight to make it the very best. By this definition, wouldn’t the athletes and coaches that kneeled or sat down during the national anthem also be considered patriotic?