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.).
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)