Kaepernick - essay


As of recently throughout the United States, a highly talked and controversial topic has been prominent in altering the perspectives of many Americans. Racism has dated back to the early 1800s, becoming one of the most disputed issues in American history. More specifically, the prolonging concept of discrimination in sports has been a long term concern. Initially, in 1968, African American star athletes such as track runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith, each raised a fist during the playing of the national anthem, in protest to the current racial discrimination status at the time. The act of protest sparked and impacted further events to come. Another African American, Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest and influential boxers in the history of the sport, also used sports as a way to show signs of political protest. During the announcement of the national anthem, Ali chose to not engage but to stay passive. Later to be spoken that Ali, protested the unfair treatment of African American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Through decades, these acts have had an influence on the African American culture and the way others perceive them. Transitioning into the 21st century, in the summer of 2016, NFL quarterback, Colin, Kaepernick, took one small act of peaceful protest and in a matter of seconds, turned the following 3 years into a nation of controversy.


A political movement called "Black Lives Matter" in 2012, flooded the internet and spread through the nation like a wildfire. It was sparked after, the tragic death of African American teenager, Trayvon Martin. The "Black Lives Matter" movement was to protest police brutality against people of color. During this time, basketball legends such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant stood with Kaepernick in saying that, "Sport has always been a canvas used to challenge convention, prove the worthiness of a marginalized group and prod the nation to live up to its stated ideals" (Bunch par. 2). In other words, players have always used sports as a platform to express their ideas, and that idea should continue to be carried out. Kaepernick, African American himself, took part in this protest in order to honor this movement, in hopes to bring change and equality in today's society.


Kaepernick, 31 now, felt oppression based on his skin color ever since he was an adolescent. After forming into a star quarterback at the University of Nevada in 2010, Kaepernick took his talents to the NFL, where he would be drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. As his career was on the upswing, he led the 49ers to the SuperBowl in 2013. Growing in popularity as the years progressed, Kaepernick all of a sudden hit a brick wall in the fall of 2016. In his final preseason game on September 1st, 2016, Kaepernick made one of the boldest and influential moves in sports history; by taking a knee during the national anthem.


What a seemed like a once praised and idolized sports figure, turned into a hated and despised man in the matter of one night. After heavy amounts of criticism, many people become highly questionable of Kaepernick's loyalty to the country that he once resembled. In a press conference after the game, Kaepernick addressed his actions, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color" (Kaepernick).


This quote provoked what will be a highly debated topic; Is kneeling during the national anthem unethical and immoral to this country? With that being said, I personally believe that America was built was on equality and independence; kneeling during the national anthem, is a bold, yet peaceful action, to spark change and bring awareness in today's most controversial problems.


Although the percentage of people who supported and favored Kaepernick at the time was a small margin, their voices did not go unnoticed. The initial argument was that this form of protest should be accepted based on our first amendment rights; which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble." (US Const.Ⅰ). More specifically, the founding fathers wrote the constitution to give citizens more power by allowing them the right to free speech and protest. Given the evidence from this, Kaepernick should have every right to protest without getting a wave of backlash and resulting in losing his job.


Elizabeth Bruenig, a writer from the Washington Post who graduated from Brown University with a BA in English and sociology and a Ph.D. in religion, expresses her perspective on this issue, in favor of the protest by quoting Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., "a baker could refuse to bake a cake because of his religious beliefs, but the NFL owners and our president do not offer the NFL players to express their 1st amendment rights to show their displeasure of how fellow Americans are being treated on the streets of American cities" (qtd in Bruenig par. 2). This portrays the idea that race is depicted as much more distinctively compared to other aspects in today's society. Whereas in other scenarios go unnoticed, Americans are quick to believe the race is held to a different standard and should be viewed in a pessimistic way. Additionally, Conor Friedersdorf, a writer for The Atlantic, graduate from Princeton University with a BA in English states how the players are protesting against something that was given to all citizens in the declaration of independence, "They are kneeling in an effort to defend the very core of the Declaration of Independence. No political action is more patriotic than petitioning the government for that purpose. If you dislike their tactics, apart from their message, consider them imperfect" (Friedersdorf par. 10). In his article, Friedersdorf portrays how not abiding by basic rights given the declaration of independence is something that should be questioned because it is highly unpatriotic.


Since the birth of the NFL, there have been no strict mandates against if players should undergo the option of kneeling or not. Specifically, according to the NFL rules committee and the game manual, a player has to be at least present on the sidelines during the playing of an anthem. This implies that it is considered optional and moreover a personal preference to exercise the 1st amendments rights. President Obama also vocalized his beliefs on this issue by publicly saying that Kaepernick was, "exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there's a long history of sports figures doing so"(qtd in Bruenig par 7). The 1st amendment holds accountable for everyone who is an American citizen, including the people, the NFL organization and the government. This protest falls under that domain, which means that in particular, NFL owners and even current President Trump, are unallowed to restrict and strip these players values from them. Sequentially, people will view their basic rights as a powerful choice given, rather than a choice that is used negatively.


Kneeling is also being perceived in a more unfavorable way by the media and their followers. The belief that the whole protest is based off disrespecting and intentionally taking shots at our military veterans. This idea is consuming the minds of the people, which is a result, makes Kaepernick seem like a terrible and pathetic human being, but in reality, he is not. The initial rumors of this horrifying theory were published early, and from then on, influenced Kaepernick's followers to turn against him. While some people view this protest as disgracious to army veterans, players and other Americans, intentions are focused on other issues. This point was proven by USA Today producer and publisher, Josh Hafner, who strongly favors that this protest is not directed towards veterans and he gives evidence, "John Middlemas, the 97-year-old World War II veteran from Missouri who knelt on Sunday in solidarity with players. His photo went viral with a quote: "Those kids have every right to protest" (Hafner par. 9). This illustrates the idea that long-time veterans, don't take this peaceful protest personally, and some are encouraging these players to continue and let their voices be heard.


After keeping their voices quiet when the protests first happened, veterans after veterans are now continuing to publicly verbalize their opinion on this issue, including former Green Beret Nate Boyer. This perspective was made by former NFL Player from the San Francisco 49ers, Eric Reid. In this New York Times article, Reid, explicitly explains his goal of kneeling was to never disrespect the armed forces or the people who fought here before us, "Nate Boyer, the former Green Beret and NFL long snapper who stood alongside Kaepernick and encouraged him to kneel --rather than sit-- during the anthem" (Hafner par. 3). Being a part of the special forces is a huge role and honor. Boyer shares the same mindset with many of these players and given the fact that he has experienced much adversity and different cultures he wants what is best for his country by provoking change.


Overcoming the hardships and the backlash, Kaepernick conveyed the deeper meaning behind his actions, as to ignite political and social change in today's society based on the events of inequality, race and police brutality. In 2014, an African American teen named Michael Brown Jr was shot and killed by white policemen, Darren Wilson. This caused an uproar of peaceful and violent protests in the city of Ferguson. Missouri, and lit fuel to the flame to provoke this issue.


The perspective of Kaepernick and his followers was portrayed through the idea that African American men are targeted and more often being shot and killed by policemen, rather than the white race. This theory was backed up and supported by the work of German Lopez, a writer for the Vox news and longtime political writer on the state level. In her findings, she noticed that "African Americans made up about 37.4 percent of the general population in the US and 46.6 percent of armed and unarmed victims, but they made up 62.7 percent of unarmed people killed by police" (Lopez par.2). This statics show the disproportionate rate at which the rate African American encounters with policemen are noticeably higher and more drastic in 2017. The unfair treatment of minorities and more particular, African Americans have plagued this country in recent years. A study by the Boston University School of Medicine also looked into the fatality rates by different races involving the police. They noticed that in 2017, "Police killed 1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population"(Lopez par. 7).


Aside from these numbers they also found that in that there were police brutalities in 342 days of the year. Out of those days, African Americans were 3x more likely to be killed rather than white people, 3:1 ratio, also that "30% of black victims were unarmed, compared to 21% of white victims "(Lopez par. 8). Given the fact that African Americans make up 13% of the population, these numbers, in reality, are much higher and relevant. Also contributing to this issue, Wisconsin Alum, Kashana Cauley, who has a law degree from Columbia and writer for New York Times who studied this recurring problem and found that, "The false claim that they are "anthem protests" also implies that protesting police violence is inconsistent with patriotism" (Cauley par. 4). This correlates with the idea that calling these anthems something they truly don't represent is equivalent to the assumption that policemen do not support patriotism. Ultimately, these statistics help prove Kaepernick's reasoning in wanted to bring change to social injustice that has caused distress in the progression of today's culture.
On the other hand, there is an alternative outlook on this situation. The view that everyone should stand during the anthem, because as an American citizen is a privilege to stand proudly and honor our country, unlike other countries where the same opportunity is not given to them.


There is also low quantity evidence that players should come to an end with this protest including President Trump. Trump had been verbally critical of this issue by tweeting, "If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect.." and "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!" (Friedersdorf par. 5-6). With the outlash of the president, it also has contributed to the NFL viewership declining significantly over the past 2 seasons. With that being said, it's important to look futuristically and continuing with this act of protest right now will only promote beneficial things in a few years.


Although Kaepernick is the opposite of being respected in this country, he did leave a mark on not only the African American community but on social injustice as a whole. Regardless that he doesn't play the game where he grew up loving, he had prominent takeaways that he can carry on with him for a long time. However, he profited off his chance in the spotlight, by signaling America's problems, issues that the nation had ignored and stowed away. In the event that Kaepernick does not make it back to the league, when talking about the impact players had on the game, his legacy will be at the top.