Colin Kaepernick’s Patriotism

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

The peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: “Our country - when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.” -- Carl Schurz, Civil War General

 “With liberty and justice for all,” are the last words of the Pledge of Allegiance. But what when happens when liberty and justice are unequal? What happens when you are a member of a minority that is persistently, systematically discriminated against?

What happens when you are parents who have to fear for the lives of your children when they leave the home, not because of what a criminal might do, but because of what law enforcement might do?

How do you answer their frustration and anger caused by the constant hurdles they have to overcome to get ahead in life? What happens when the government that is supposed to be guaranteeing their rights instead takes them away through unequal enforcement of the law or passing legislation specifically aimed at making it harder for them to vote?

Raising awareness of wrongs can’t always be done through “regular channels.” Sometimes getting people’s attention requires a visceral act, something that creates strong emotions, that shines a harsh spotlight on injustice. San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has done just that by refusing to stand during the national anthem at the 49’ers pre-season football games.

If Kaepernick were to simply give a press conference, his words would quickly be forgotten. But his act of not standing for the national anthem (at first sitting, but now kneeling) is an ongoing act that can’t be easily ignored – every week it will get national attention. In every community the 49’ers play there will be a story about it.

And in those stories Kaepernick’s message will come across – America has to do something about the systematic prejudice and unfairness against people of color that pervades our society. Kaepernick is of black and white heritage.

“Once again, I’m not anti-American,” Kaepernick has said about his protest. “I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.”

A lot of people feel Kaepernick has a legitimate point; they just don’t like the way in which he is making it. Not standing during the national anthem is going too far. It is disrespectful. It makes those watching uncomfortable.

Kaepernick went from sitting to kneeling after a professional football player and former Green Beret Nate Boyer wrote a piece about his protest in the magazine Army Times. “Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger,” he wrote. “I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.” Boyer served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He stood by Kaepernick at a recent game, hand over heart during the national anthem, while Kaepernick knelt nearby.

By taking a knee, Kaepernick goes from an image of showing angry, sullen disrespect to an act that he says respectfully acknowledges the service and sacrifice of the military men and women of this country, but still calls attention to the uneven playing field that people of color face in America.

Here is another famous black athlete’s take on Kaepernick’s protest. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and was once a cultural ambassador for the U.S.

“During the Olympics in Rio a couple of weeks ago, Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks was sprinting intently in the middle of his pole vaulting attempt when he heard the national anthem playing,” he wrote. “He immediately dropped his pole and stood at attention, a spontaneous expression of heartfelt patriotism that elicited more praise than his eventual bronze medal.

“Last Thursday, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand with his teammates during the national anthem.

“To some, Kendricks embodies traditional all-American Forrest Gump values of patriotism, while Kaepernick represents the entitled brattish behavior of a wealthy athlete ungrateful to a country that has given him so much. In truth, both men, in their own ways, behaved in a highly patriotic manner that should make all Americans proud,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

We can just hear the response of many readers to Abdul-Jabbar’s observation of the two events. “Are you kidding me!”

But Abdul-Jabbar goes on to make an essential point: Being patriotic isn’t all about showing respect for anthems, or pledges, or war memorials, or sacred holidays such as the Fourth of July. It is more fundamentally about the principles set down in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – including freedom of speech. It is also about the obligations of government to guarantee those rights, and when it doesn’t, to call it to the attention of citizens who then prevail upon their government to set things right.

Kaepernick is paying a price for his stand – not just in the boos, ridicule, threats and angry taunts he hears, but in the lost earnings power of a star athlete. It is commendable that the principle he believes in is more important than the money – too many others with powerful public voices have remained silent to protect their earning ability.

What is less patriotic, not standing for the national anthem, or being too lazy, or too disengaged from our democracy to vote or participate in other ways in the political process? It is expected that just over half the eligible voters in this country will cast a ballot in November for the national, state and local elections. This is the patriotic equivalent of slouching back in a chair playing a video game on your phone during the national anthem.

Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character. -- Margaret Chase Smith

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