Kaepernick’s sit is justified regardless of whether one agrees with Black Lives Matter
by Martín Saps
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has come into the spotlight for his refusal to stand during the national anthem in a protest against current race relations in the U.S. Much like previous athletes who have used sports as a means by which to express their views on social justice, Colin Kaepernick has drawn much criticism for his move. But Kaepernick’s critics, many of whom see the quarterback’s move as disrespectful, fail to realize that Civil Rights advocacy requires provocative measures in order to succeed. Regardless of whether one believes in Kaepernick’s cause, it is important to understand that his boldness is justified because it is necessary to evoke change.
In a recent press conference, Kaepernick explained that he will continue to sit during the anthem until he “sees improvements in U.S race relations”; Kaepernick specifically claims that his refusal to stand is an attempt to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and draw attention to the killings of black individuals at the hands of the police, stating: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. 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.”
In a recent trip to China, U.S President Barack Obama expressed his support for Kaepernick, claiming that the biracial quarterback has “generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.” Kaepernick has also received widespread support from many athletes, politicians, and celebrities. But the five-year quarterback’s activism has not gone without critics. Countless Americans have condemned Kaepernick’s anthem snub, many of whom see his view as inherently political and thus having no place in sports. Foremost, many, such as political commentator Mike Huckabee, argue that Kaepernick should be proud of and respectful to the American flag regardless of his personal beliefs, stating: “The $20 million or so that [Colin] Kaepernick makes every year is over 800 times what the average active duty US Army enlistee makes for protecting his right to be an arrogant fool”. To people like Huckabee, he is displaying a mere political opinion; to Kaepernick, he is arguing for something far greater: civil rights.
Beyond Colin Kaepernick’s fundamental right to refuse to stand and salute the flag, the fact that Black Americans are second class citizens needs to be recognized. Regardless of whether one personally believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is legitimate, it is necessary to understand the cause’s uniqueness: the movement, according to advocates for the movement, must begin by calling awareness to the problem. The issue of systemic racism has always been there; the problem is that mainstream white society ignores those who seek to call awareness to the issue; Kaeepernick is displaying his lack of pride in a society that refuses to listen to the issues of a faction of their population. It is evident how shoving the issue in the face of white society allows people to no longer deny the voices of the black community.
This is not the first time that athletes have drawn criticism for using sports to express their support for civil rights. At the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, Olympic runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith stirred controversy when they provocatively raised their fists on the podium after winning first and second places in the 200-meter dash. The runners famously explained that they “were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country.” Both runners received death threats, were discharged from the U.S Olympic team and were widely condemned by people who believed that such a precarious political issue should not have a place in professional sports. Today, however, very few Americans would continue to express their disdain for civil rights advocacy. This is because people understand that for important issues such as Civil Rights, is often important to work outside of common systems and methods in order to call awareness to oppression.
It would be no surprise if in 20 years, Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem will be all but completely accepted in white society. It is also evident that arguments such as that “political statements do not belong in sports” are merely being used by the same people that argue that members of marginalized groups should “attempt to create change the proper way”, within a self-reinforcing system that actively muffles their voices.
Martín Saps is a Uruguayan-American studying Politics (with minors in History and Philosophy) at Bates College. He is a member of the Rugby and Debate Teams and hopes to pursue a career in in print media. He has published in both English and Spanish on topics ranging from the Islamic State’s presence in Bangladesh to Affirmative Action. He loves writing because it gives him the opportunity to share his perspective on politics, history, and current events with readers.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The picture is unchanged by Au Kirk under a CC BY 2.0 and can be found here.