Our Opinion: Kaepernick deserves admiration, not derision

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And ... another example of you have the freedom to say what you want to, unless ...

That "unless" often comes up when people take it upon themselves to point out that the principles this nation was founded on don't exactly jibe with how this nation was actually founded — with Native Americans being slaughtered for the land under their feet and black people being driven by the whip for the profit of slave owners. The "unless" also finds its way into discourse when people burn the flag of the United States in protest of a blunderous foreign policy, corporate exploitation of the poor and working class and numerous other grievances that may or may not be justified.

Most recently, that "unless" cacophonously rose to the surface when Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand when the Star Spangled Banner was played at a recent preseason football game.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media's Steve Wyche. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. ... There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust (that) people aren't being held accountable for. And that's something that needs to change. That's something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it's not happening for all right now."

The social media firestorm ignited by Kaepernick's action and comments has been predictable, and the comments typical, especially from the knee-jerk right wingers, who have prided themselves on the jingoistic slogan of "My country, right or wrong" since the days of sending Americans to kill, and die, in Vietnam.

The Tweetstorm that followed included derogatory questions about his athletic ability and his patriotism and included a disconcerting number of "N" bombs. As Ben Mathis-Lilley noted, writing for Slate, the criticism also included comments such as "What about black on black crime," "He is disrespecting the troops," "He is rich, and therefore not oppressed," "He's just an athlete," and "If he doesn't like it here, why doesn't he leave?"

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing for the Washington Post, noted that to some "Kaepernick represents the entitled brattish behavior of a wealthy athlete ungrateful to a country that has given him so much. ... Patriotism isn't just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It's supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution's insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty."

Many of his critics have unfairly connected Kaepernick's criticism of this country with hatred. But those people forget or choose to ignore the fact that there is more to being an honorable citizen than waving the flag and standing for the national anthem with your hand over your heart. Sometimes it's speaking truth, however difficult or uncomfortable. People who hurl invective at those who dare challenge blind patriotism show a lack of understanding of the nation's history, how we use our military to prop up our empire at the expense of third-world countries and their people and how many Americans suffer from indignity, violence and injustice.

And Lindsay Gibbs, writing for ThinkProgress, noted that the Tweetstorm that followed wasn't all negative, and included plenty of support from veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces. "Many used the hashtag to point out that a big reason they fought in the military was to defend Kaepernick's right to peacefully protest in any way he saw fit. Still others used #VeteransForKaepernick as a chance to share stories of the racism that black soldiers have faced, both past and present."

Abdul-Jabbar wrote that Americans shouldn't be all up in arms over Kaepernick's choice to be seated, but instead be horrified that "nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos's raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what's really un-American here."

Kaepernick didn't disrespect the United States, wrote ESPN's Ian O'Connor. What he did was remind us that "There remains a White America and a Black America, separate and unequal, and Kaepernick just became the latest public figure to speak out against the imbalance. If you don't like what the man did or said, that's your prerogative. But telling him that what he said and did was un-American is to lose sight of what it means to be an American."

What Kaepernick reminded us is, it's the duty of those who have benefited the most to stand up for those who have benefited the least. Johnny Cash understood this when he wrote "Man in Black." We would do well to remember his words: "Well, there's things that never will be right I know/And things need changin' everywhere you go/But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right/You'll never see me wear a suit of white."


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