Recently, NFL football player Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers made headlines when he chose to sit during the national anthem rather than stand.
Kaepernick is not the first professional athlete to protest a patriotic song, and he probably won’t be the last. In the ‘90s, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (who played for the Vancouver Grizzlies) protested the anthem for many of the same reasons, and in return, the NBA suspended him for one game.
Kaepernick, so far, has received no suspension or other punishment because of his actions.
Specifically, he chose to sit during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, and in doing so, has undermined the credibility of the initiative. When the media gets a hold of a story where an athlete is, arguably, disrespecting his country by refusing to stand for the anthem, they don’t concentrate on the reasons behind his actions. They focus on the action itself; the intent, no matter how good, gets left in the dark.
He is drawing attention away from the actual problem — racism — because everyone is too caught up in wondering if his stats allow him the luxury of being pardoned by the public for his offence. They’re not discussing the deaths of black people at the police’s hands, or of young black men like Trayvon Martin who were killed by white citizens.
Kaepernick is biracial, so I’m sure his heart was in the right place. He’s also been outspoken on his Twitter about Black Lives Matter. It really seems like he wants to help raise awareness, get people involved, and get them in the know if they were ignorant before. But this is not the way to do it.
A country that only weeks ago slandered Gabby Douglas across the Internet for not placing her hand over her heart during the national anthem is not a country that will take Kaepernick’s actions lightly. His actions will instead be discussed with words like “disrespectful,” “ungrateful,” and “unpatriotic.” His actions will be reduced to a sound bite of “what not to do.” No conversations and no change will come about because of his act of protest.
I wish I could say that Kaepernick’s actions sparked a revolution in how the world sees and deals with the imbalance of power, authority, and opportunity across racial and other constructed lines in the sand. I wish I could tell you that the various media outlets discussing the situation weren’t complicit, knowingly or otherwise, in the stifling of voices searching for a better world.
You may be wondering why this matters to us here in Canada, here at SFU. We’re not American. We say sorry too much. You could be forgiven for thinking we don’t have a race problem. But you’d be wrong.
Just because it isn’t as apparent here at home as it is in the US doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means we’re better at denying it. These issues of demographic superiority and a status quo media are a global problem.
We may forget about Kaepernick sitting out “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but the issue isn’t going to just go away if we ignore it. Systemic oppression affects everybody and as such, it is everybody’s responsibility to try and correct it.