Last season, NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, shot to fame outside sporting circles with his protest against the treatment of “black people and people of colour” by American police forces in the United States. Kaepernick chose not to stand during the American national anthem before games, an act viewed as almost treasonous by some.
Kaepernick – who is biracial and was adopted and raised by white parents – outlined his position clearly stating “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour”.
He went on to further state that “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” It is often risky for us, as outsiders, to cast judgment on American society. However, the documented events of the last three years give weight to Kaepernick’s comments.
The problem it seemed, based on the response in America is that Kaepernick had the temerity to disrespect the anthem and by some extension, the centuries-old respect for the military enshrined in ‘Old Glory’. Incidentally, the US anthem has often come in for criticism due its racist overtones, and like all anthems was a product of its time.
The national flag can mean many different things to many people. The recent 1916 commemorations here had some commentators examining the symbolism of the flag, and perhaps more importantly, how it is actually viewed by regular citizens. For some, the tricolour is sacred and a powerful national symbol. To others, who are no doubt proud to be Irish, the flag is merely a sporting banner.
Military Importance in the United States
Nevertheless, we are a neutral country and are not in a position to familiarise ourselves with the lengthy and complicated military history of the United States of America. The crux of the vitriol aimed at Kaepernick is that he disrespected the men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces, something he has denied with absolute clarity. There’s no questioning the bravery required to step into a battlefield, but some of the Mom’s apple-pie horseshit that was spewed by NFL coaches and players is difficult to fathom.
When questioned on Kaepernick’s actions, Buffalo Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan’s opined that “the opportunity that we have to play a great game is through the men and women that serve our country.” Firstly, that reads as either an incredibly simplistic or sycophantic statement and frankly does not make sense. The NFL does not, to the best of our knowledge, function as a result of American military interventions on foreign soil.
Kaepernick had every right to express an opinion and while many NFL players acknowledged this right they have reacted most negatively to his actions. The overwhelming response has been that Kaepernick disrespected members of the US military when he refused to stand and face the flag. Surely this is somewhat hypocritical? You can say whatever you want but your actions can’t peacefully reflect your views?
Some, like former NFL safety Marvin Harrison, have asked why Kaepernick never spoke when he was on a minimum contract and a relative nobody. Surely Harrison is missing the point. Because of past deeds on the field, the 30-year-old is a household name in the United States and a voice that is more likely to be heard, if not listened to.
Seen and not heard
Too often, those in an elevated status in society choose to neatly sidestep any potentially divisive issues but Kaepernick has chosen to step outside the protective bubble and stand for something. The point is not really whether Colin Kaepernick was right to do what he did, more the fact that he showed the willingness to do so.
Then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had his say, unsurprisingly, suggesting that “maybe he (Kaepernick) should find a country that works better for him”. Hardly a new departure for Trump but his views are typical of the those who disagree with Kaepernick’s actions. Rather than actually look at the wider problems in society, critics have focused on what they perceive to be the Nevada native’s lack of respect for the military.
On a micro level, Kaepernick’s stance was most interesting in that it came in the week when NFL rosters were cut to 52 and, after a year of injuries and reported personality clashes, it did not appear to be a smart move from either a career or commercial perspective.
Kaepernick further stated that “this is not something I am going to run by anybody” and that “if they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” A sceptic could say, with considerable substance, that Kaepernick’s football was going to be taken away from him anyway. This, because he couldn’t even take the starting job in San Francisco from an also-ran like Blaine Gabbert. And not because of his stance on divisive issues in a simmering American society.
In the end, the San Francisco 49ers relented and Kaepernick was signed on a contract that suited both player and team. Roll on eight months, however, and the former star has been cut by the 49ers and is struggling to find a location for his unique skill set.
Ever the opportunist, President Trump went on claim that NFL teams are scared to sign Kaepernick because “they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump”. This statement basically everything you need to know about the imperilled Commander-in-Chief but it is the type of propaganda he revels in.
Admittedly, NFL owners are white, old and largely conservative but Trump’s simplification of Kaepernick’s inability to get signed is less than conclusive. While owners may fear upsetting their fan base by signing a liberal player who voices his opinions, Kaepernick’s lack of work mostly comes down to more pragmatic footballing reasons.
Kaepernick’s style fits a very specific scheme, one that is now slightly dated and suited to a younger man. Further, he is the least accurate thrower of the ball in the NFL, which obviously is a negative for a person whose primary purpose is to complete passes. Consider Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s employability if he couldn’t score goals. Finally, he has just come from a job where he was massively overpaid and most likely has unreasonable monetary expectations.
Colin Kaepernick will probably find a team but until then, President Donald Trump will be happy, as ever, to propagate the half-baked idea that his influence is ubiquitous. At least it beats fake news, though.