National Anthem Protests are Divisive

Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest during the national anthem in 2016
Over the past few years, an increasing number of pro athletes have forgotten the old adage: “There’s no ‘i’ in ‘TEAM’”. Teamwork in team sports has taken a back seat to individual end zone celebrations, bat flips, domestic violence, and political protests, the latter of which has become closely associated with former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

In 2016 the 49ers QB decided to stage a year-long protest against racial disparity and police brutality, by refusing to stand for the national anthem before each game. Not surprisingly, his sideline kneeling routine became a bigger story than the contest it preceded. As the season progressed, Kaepernick became a lightning rod of controversy, and his protest was seen by millions of fans as having been unpatriotic. NFL TV ratings began to fall off, and so too did Kaepernick’s playing skills. By season’s end he opted out of his multi-million dollar contract with San Francisco in order to become a free agent. Since then, no NFL organization has signed him, and Kaepernick is a man without a team.

Perhaps at a different time in our history, no one would pay much attention to one, out-of-work football player, but in light of the Charlottesville riot, and a growing unrest around the nation, Kaepernick’s unemployment has become a rally point for civil rights activists. We had almost forgotten about his national anthem protest when, two weeks ago, prior to a pre-season game between the Browns and the Giants, a group of Cleveland players took a knee to show solidarity with Kaepernick, both for his employment status, and for the social ills he stood against. Then, last week in New York City, hundreds of people staged a “United We Stand” demonstration outside of NFL headquarters. Said one protester, “We are here because we believe that Colin Kaepernick deserves a job.” 

Jason Whitlock, a noted African-American sports journalist, has been openly critical of Kaepernick and his supporters, telling FOX’s Laura Ingraham, “This to me is beginning to smell like a shake-down of the NFL and NFL ownership. There’s a false narrative that he’s out of the league because all of the owners are racists, and he’s being black-balled. This is simply a case of a guy who’s not good enough to justify all the attention and noise and controversy that comes along with him … The NFL just wants to play football [and] football has been incredibly good for African-American men, and has created more millionaires than any other industry for African-Americans (who comprise 70% of all NFL players).”

Whitlock’s analysis is right on the money, literally. Perhaps those who demonstrated in front of NFL headquarters don’t realize that, since signing with the 49ers in 2011, Kaepernick has earned nearly $45 million dollars, and could have kept earning more millions had he not decided to quit his team. The protesters who support Colin should also be aware of the QB’s hypocrisy. Last year, Kaepernick railed against society, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.” He also vowed to continue his protest, “until the flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”

The problem is that Mr. Kaepernick talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.  He wants everyone to get involved and change the way things are done in America, yet he never bothers to vote. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to feel sympathy for a millionaire athlete who sits at home on election day, then complains about the condition of our country.

Following the aforementioned Browns-Giants game, Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said of the national anthem protests, “I would hope that we don’t have [to deal with] those issues [again].” But he IS having to deal with them again, and so are the rest of us fans who just want to watch teams play football, not individuals play politics. That doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the racial disparities and police brutality that exist. It just means that there’s a time and a place to call for change, and that place is in the voting booth, not during the singing of our national anthem.

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