Nike, Colin Kaepernick, and the Respect Inherent in Taking a Knee

So, Nike made Colin Kaepernick a face of their Just Do It campaign, and people are losing their everlovin’ minds. They’re cutting the Nike swoosh off their clothing, burning their Nike gear, pledging to boycott, and otherwise throwing a hissy fit because this company gave a man they despise a job.

Let’s start with a brief recap of how we got here:

Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem at a game on August 26, 2016. He did this because he saw the issues of racial disparities in our legal and justice systems and felt that his country—the one that our flag and anthem represent—was not living up to its ideals of “liberty and justice for all.”

That simple action created an uproar among people who took it as disrespect for the flag and for the veterans who sacrificed for our freedoms. Controversy ensued.

Another football player and veteran—former Seahawk and Green Beret, Nate Boyer—saw all of this go down. He wrote an open letter to Kaepernick, sharing support for the basis of his protest but explaining why sitting during the anthem created such a visceral response in some people, including himself.

Kaepernick invited Boyer to meet with him. They spoke for 90 minutes, sharing their different perspectives.

Kap said he wanted to make his statement without being disrespectful to the military. Boyer suggested that instead of sitting, Kap could kneel during the anthem. Soldiers take a knee when one is wounded. They take a knee at a fellow soldier’s gravesite. They take a knee to pray. Taking a knee is a sign of respect and reverence.

Again, Kaepernick wanted to stage his peaceful demonstration while still showing respect for the military, so he talked to a veteran about how to do that. And that veteran suggested he take a knee instead of sitting **because taking a knee is always a sign of respect and reverence.**

I don’t know how people keep missing this and complaining that Kap and others who have knelt during the anthem are disrespecting the military.

We kneel to pray. We kneel to propose marriage. We kneel before royalty. Taking a knee in those instances is a sign of respect and reverence.

Soldiers kneel in solidarity with the wounded. Football players themselves kneel when a player is injured and carried off the field. Taking a knee says, “I see you and acknowledge your suffering.” It is always a sign of respect and reverence. Always.

Can you think of a situation in which consciously getting down on one knee is not a sign of respect? I can’t.

It’s not like Kap flipped a middle finger to the flag or dropped his pants and mooned it. It’s not like he even turned his back on it. He simply didn’t stand, and when he realized that was being misinterpreted, he knelt — at the suggestion of a veteran.

Taking a knee during the anthem as a form of protest is NOT a statement AGAINST what the flag stands for in any way, shape, or form. Taking a knee is a statement that says America is wounded by racism and injured by injustice. It says to the people of color in our nation, who are still not experiencing true liberty and justice, “I see you and acknowledge your suffering.”

And it says all of that while ALSO saying, “I respect the sacrifices made by those who fight to protect our freedoms”— because, once again, taking a knee is a sign of respect.

The flag and anthem belong to all of us. They are symbols of our ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” If some of our citizens are still not experiencing true liberty and real justice, then our flag and our anthem are not representing the nation we think they are — and that is why these protests are happening.

None of this is new information, and yet so many people still insist that these protests are disrespectful. I think there are several reasons for this:

  • Some people haven’t bothered to learn this story or sought to understand the hows and whys of this protest.
  • Some people place more importance on a symbol than on whether or not the country that symbol represents is living up to its ideals.
  • Some people are more concerned with order than with justice.
  • Some people simply don’t believe such injustices exist.
  • Some people simply can’t handle a black American sitting in a time and place they don’t approve of (see Rosa Parks, the Greensboro sit-ins, etc.).

Nike, Colin Kaepernick, and the Respect Inherent in Taking a Knee

But largely, I think many Americans just don’t want to talk about racism. They are content to pretend it doesn’t exist or that it will just magically go away if we ignore the topic long enough. So rather than address the actual issues that these protests are pointing to, they pour their energy into ranting about disrespecting the flag — though I’d bet dollars to donuts that they’ve never chastised the people buying hot dogs and popcorn during the anthem at a football game.

I know some people will continue misinterpreting kneeling as disrespectful and blame the players for that misunderstanding, despite the fact that they’ve been crystal clear about their intent. And that’s fine. People did the same thing to Martin Luther King, Jr. The “I Have a Dream Speech” that everyone loves to quote was delivered during an event that the majority of Americans disapproved of. “Five months before the March on Washington, 60 percent of the country had a negative view of the event and 57 percent thought that peaceful sit-ins hurt the civil rights movement. Even a year later, in 1964, 73 percent of Americans believed ‘Negroes should stop mass demonstrations.’” 

That being said, I know that some people will never be comfortable with this form of protest for various reasons. What I don’t understand, though, is the fierce anger and vitriol that it has brought about in people. Burning the Nike shoes on your own feet because the company showed you Kaepernick’s face? The man exercised his constitutional right by quietly, peacefully kneeling during the anthem to bring attention to an issue that should concern all Americans who believe in justice — and you respond by throwing a fit and destroying property and calling that man unAmerican? Who is on the right side of history here? 

We need to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to fight for your country, and stop questioning the patriotism of a man who has sacrificed his career and reputation trying to make America a more just place for all. 

(Image via Twitter/Colin Kaepernick)

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 13

  1. Katherine Diaz

    The reason taking a knee is so disrespectful to most in this protest, especially white America is because taking a knee to the anthem brings up, and I would say more than likely subconsciously the fear that our country would return to a post Vietnam-era of treating our flag, our VETERANS the way America shamefully treated Vietnam Vets. That STAIN IS SO POTENT on the hearts of Americans, that any counter measure rises above any other cause. I was having this discussion with my (black) neighbor who is a Veteran and agrees with Colin’s right to take a knee and the message of the protest, because as a black man, especially growing up in the South he has experienced such prejudice. We had a lovely conversation and when I explained the above, it was like a light went on for him. Colin and the others are not “selling” white America on their cause. Sadly in their heartfelt desire to effect change, they have divided us more. There is, of course, VERY real merit to the dangers of living while black, driving while black, walking while black but sadly white America will never listen to the REAL issue as long as Colin and others are kneeling. YES, we must be sold on the idea of why it matters because we live in such an entertainment society and move on to the next thing very quickly. The real issue at hand, is why city revenues (in the way of tickets, fines, etc) are built on the backs of the poorer population which is disproportionately people of color? This then continues the cycle of poverty for these communities. The real discussion/solutions is/are being missed and it’s frustrating to watch everyone on a pinwheel.

  2. Abiatha Swelter

    “I don’t know how people keep missing this and complaining that Kap and others who have knelt during the anthem are disrespecting the military.”

    You don’t know how this happens? Have you not been watching the news? Trump and his flunkies have been trying to get people to believe that.

  3. Sarah H

    From the wife of a Army veteran: I want to respectfully share his perspective. It is incredibly hard for him to see Kap (and the others) kneel. He does not understand why a veteran would advise Kap to use that posture. In the Army the standard is standing. Always. “Even if you only had one leg you’d find a way to stand.” And unlike you implied he’s irritated by anyone whistling during the National Anthem, and he’s outraged for anyone buying peanuts or talking on their cellphones. It comes up anytime we witness the National Anthem, and he’s not alone in that frustration.

    Both of us regularly see the consequences of racial inequality in person. (He’s currently a paramedic and firefighter. I work in a community clinic as an Spanish interpreter.) We strongly agree that there’s work to be done. Unfortunately, as he brought up, many conversations are raging about Kap’s method and the response and almost none about police action and the cycles of poverty and inequality. I, for one, have not had one more discussion about police brutality than I would have as a result of Kap’s protest because the focus has remained on the what not the why.

    I did appreciate your comments about past protests and how many people disapproved of sit-ins and peaceful protests. I only hope that in this deeply divided climate we can find opportunities to be the step towards others and towards change.

    1. Kelly Harlow

      Thank you, sincerely, for civilly sharing why/how you and your husband have some different perspectives on this subject. And thank you for gratefully acknowledging some of the really great points/examples of past peaceful protests (and the, then, current public opinions on those peaceful protests). Civil discourse such as yours benefits ALL people! So NOW you HAVE had a conversation that you wouldn’t have otherwise had about race and prejudice- right here, right now, on this specific thread. And you rose to the occasion to really make your words count in a positive, loving, respectful, and caring way. You set a great example for helping others to listen and converse about an extremely touchy subject. Bravo to you! My sincerely resoect and gratitude, btw, is being sent your and your husbabd’s way for y’alls combined service to our country. Thank you, again, for your thoughts.

  4. Waylene

    Everyone is entitled to protest in a peaceful manner. I’m not disagreeing with that. Here’s what a lot of us are feeling and just don’t say so because they will be called racist. 1) He speaks bad about law enforcement. He has a lot to say about someone being shot for breaking the law and endangering others but shame on law enforcement for protecting us. Not all law enforcement are bad, not all law enforcement hide their actions and NO LEO goes home feeling great about taking a life. 2) He is protesting racism yet acts like a racist himself. News Flash, other races are just as bad, if not worse, at being racist. Just because someone doesn’t agree with something said or done doesn’t mean they are racist. Throwing the racist card out there all the time gets old. We can disagree without being racist. 3) While kneeling may be a sign of respect, raising your fist in the air is not. Yes, he has done that as well. Where is the protest about the white kid, Hispanic kid etc for being disrespected? Why does the media and Kap only mention the black kid? Where were all these protesters when the camera wasn’t rolling? Why didn’t Kap protest or do something to fix the issue? 4) Kap sacrificed nothing! He was sitting on the bench before the protesting started because he sucked that season and his team needed someone who could score. He didn’t sacrifice his job by fighting in the military. He didn’t leave everything he knew fighting for this country. Kyle sacrificed, Tillman sacrificed and our first responders sacrifice. So yeah, I get what you are trying to say but no, he didn’t sacrifice crap. I’m sure I will get nasty comments (if this even gets posted) because I will be accused of being racist but that too is ok. I know who I am.

    1. James

      To say “others do this too” is not an argument that supports your disagreement. It’s a weak deflection at best. By your standards, only those who have fought in wars are allowed to speak up. I would also mention the obvious. Kap would have a job in the NFL, even if it were a back-up, if he wasn’t such a hot political topic right now. So, yeah that is a sacrifice. He has donated a million dollars to causes that help disenfranchised communities. Lastly, even you seem to agree some cops are bad. I would think someone who supports law enforcement would want these individuals purged from those who do their jobs with honor.

  5. Casilda Peel

    Thank you for this, so beautifully written & well expressed -my thoughts exactly. I’m British (with British, Spanish & Irish blood), but share many American values. Here in the UK/Britain many similar issues/injustices are currently being challenged as well, from the Windrush generation scandal, anti-semitism scandal, islamophobia, xenophobia… with the latest being economic injustices between the rich/poor divide, exploitation/slavery(!) of workers, gender pay gaps off the back of the #MeToo & #TIMESUP movements and general abuses of power across the board. Another example being the historical (& arguably current/ongoing) abuses of power within the Catholic Church which was recently highlighted during the Pope’s visit to Ireland.

    Colin Kaepernick’s protest speaks to all of us, the world over, inspires all of us & standing with him (& now with Nike too), is in my view, standing on the right side of history.

    I speak as someone who counts a former British Prime Minister as an ancestor in my family. Sir Robert Peel (mid-19th century PM), a man who founded the police (specifically the London Metropolitan police), hence police in the UK being (affectionately) nicknamed “Bobbies” or “Peelers”, as well as a man who supported and advocated strongly for the boycotting of sugar in protest against slavery in the sugar plantations, which was instrumental in helping bring about the end of slavery here in the UK. So yes, boycotting things can be v.constructive, if it’s for a “good/just cause”, as it was then, but boycotting Nike now makes no sense, since Nike is defending & upholding the good/just cause by supporting Kaepernick! I feel his (Sir Robert Peel’s) spirit speaking strongly through me at this moment, as I feel he would wholeheartedly support Kap & any civil action against any/all abuses of power, be it by the police, or by any other law enforcement officers/agencies/institutions, law makers, politicians etc, as well as supporting protests against racism and any/all other social injustices.

    Likewise, I feel the spirit of Che Guevara & Concha Espina (two other ancestors/family relatives of mine on my Spanish side), would also stand with all these things that Kaepernick stands for. I am unashamedly name dropping, because I’m immensely proud of my heritage, both these 2 men & woman were v.prominent & influential figures in their day (as is their legacy, still today for many the world over) & my own name carries little-no weight as I’m unknown, but I wanted to lend my support to this protest with my small voice, hoping the stronger/bigger voices of my ancestors/family heritage might help to amplify it. I’m sure there’s a bunch from my Irish lineage joining in here too (I still have to learn more from this branch of my family history!), as well as less well-known & anonymous voices from all sides! I’ll also mention St. Casilda (Saint Casilda or Santa Casilda in Spanish), whom I was named after, who would undoubtedly have stood with Kaepernick too.

    My initials are CAP, so #CAPwithKAP #IStandWithKap #IKneelWithKap #IStandWithNike #LibertyAndJusticeForAll #HoldingPowerToAccount #ChallengeWhatNeedsToBeChallenged #CivilDisobedienceIsCivil #PeacefulProtest #PeacefulWarrior #RainbowWarrior #TakingAKnee ❤✊

    1. Katherine Diaz

      Your ancestor, Che Guevera was a murderer! That is the equivalent of me being proud to have Pol Pot or Karl Marx as an ancestor.

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