San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the latest recipient of White-America’s frustrations after he refused to stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner” during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
Kaepernick’s refusal to stand comes from frustrations with the way African Americans and other minorities are treated across the country. Although slavery and Jim Crow laws have been formally abolished, many Americans still feel effects of these systems.
African Americans make up nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million incarcerated people in the United States and are arrested at nearly six times the rate of whites. African American families are still denied housing in certain neighborhoods because of racist real estate agents, and are yet to be granted reparations for centuries of unpaid labor.
More than 100 unarmed African Americans were killed by police officers in 2015, and there are no signs of this trend slowing. Over 700 people have been killed by police officers already in 2016, which is more than most developed countries kill over multiple years.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” said Kaepernick in an exclusive interview with NFL Media. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick is not the first athlete to stand up for injustices by sitting through or refusing to participate in singing the national anthem. He joins the ranks of Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas who was chastised during the Rio Olympics for not placing her right hand over her heart during the song.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and many players in the Women’s National Basketball Association, use their platforms to protest the treatment of oppressed groups.
At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, African Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists while the anthem played, just after winning gold and bronze in the 200-meter dash. The two had their medals taken, were likened to Nazis by the American media and Smith was discharged from the Army for his “un-American” actions after their act.
Kaepernick is getting treatment similar to the rest of the athletes who speak up against injustices in America. On social media, Kaepernick is being referred to as “un-American”, as people question how a multi-million dollar NFL quarterback can be oppressed.
Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken in a pile-up by multiple NYPD officers after they claimed he “charged” at them. Sefolosha was arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration. After rejecting multiple plea deals Sefolosha was exonerated by a jury and announced that he planned to sue the NYPD for $50 million.
It is the job of those in positions of power to highlight the struggles of oppressed groups, whose voices are often ignored. Regardless of income, when injustice is recognized it should be publicized in order to find solutions. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Muhammad Ali is remembered for being an American hero; changing the sport of boxing along with American culture and society. To commemorate Ali one must take into account his protest of the Vietnam War. His refusal to be inducted into the Army garnered him a $10,000 fine, five years in prison (overturned) and a three-year ban from boxing.
Speaking negatively of Kaepernick for protesting the anthem, but praising Ali for evading the draft, is a hypocritical act.
Protest is a way for those who feel they have no say to make their voices heard. Yes, Kaepernick is a millionaire, but that fact does not remove him from the African American reality in which you can be justifiably murdered by public servants for reaching for your driver’s license after being asked for it, as in the case of Philando Castile, or standing in front of a convenience store like Alton Sterling.
Kaepernick is not wrong for protesting the national anthem, and athletes and many veterans are already standing in solidarity with him. The trend of athletes using their platform to speak against injustices is growing, and will become more common as this country’s injustices become more public.