BY ARIANA APOSTOL & ROTEM LITINSKI
For anyone looking to point fingers over who isn’t patriotic in the United States, Colin Kaepernick should not be at the top of your list.
Amid recent uproar over 49rs Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the national anthem, more than a few have labeled the QB as someone who hates America and has no respect for veterans. Kaepernick had been exercising his decision to sit during the National Anthem all of preseason, although his protest was noticed on August 27th when dressed in uniform on game day. In an interview with NFL media, Kaepernick explained his decision: “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.” He then alluded to several recent events in which unarmed black men have been shot by police officers with little to no retribution for their actions, stating that “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” In addition to his symbolic decision to sit or take a knee during the national anthem to bring attention to the prejudice faced by minorities in America today, Kaepernick also pledged to donate his first million dollars earned this year to different organizations fighting for equal opportunity for people of color.
Contrary to common misconception, Kaepernick sitting down for the Anthem in no way voices any disrespect for veterans and their service. After his victory over the Chargers, Kaepernick explained to reporters, “I realize that men and women of the military go out and sacrifice their lives and put themselves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech and my freedoms in this country and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee so I have the utmost respect for them.” The QB even reported having discussions with veterans about the right way to make his message clear while still showing his respect for people who have fought to make this country safe. Due to widespread opposition criticizing the football player for being “insensitive” or “ignorant” and urging him to “leave the country” because his ideas may not directly align with their views on what encompasses patriotism, many conveniently ignore the other side of the story: the side that exposes the support Kaepernick receives from veterans–the very people that Kaepernick so “shamed.” US Army veteran Richard Allen Smith was told that he was openly disrespected by the 49ers Quarterback’s act of protest. Nonetheless, Smith saw another side to painting depicted overwhelmingly in a single color. He remarked on occurrences of people burning the QB’s jersey “with the troops and veterans being the reason” as “seem[ingly] ridiculous.” He continued on to say that the utilization of veterans as props of patriotism by politicians and corporations as a means of positive reflection on the nation has become commonplace. In his own form of protest, Smith asserted that there are veterans and patriots in support of concentrating efforts on improving the nation-in support of improving the values so seemingly fundamental and path-paving.
Exercising his political rights does not, in any way, make Kaepernick a bad American. In fact, his decision to stand up (or sit down, for that matter) for the equal rights and opportunities for minority groups in an effort to make the United States a safer place makes him one of the most patriotic Americans there are. As a country that prides itself on providing freedom of speech and expression as well as a place that gives opportunity to all who enter, it is extremely unpatriotic to try to silence anyone who isn’t happy in their country because they feel it isn’t following its professed values.
Popular arguments hold that Kaepernick, as a popular public figure with all eyes on him, needs to uphold the appropriate masked persona that adheres to a specific type of patriotism. When did there become a specific type? When did fundamental Americanism incorporate the duty to limit the way someone protests-especially when the protest is in no way violent and meant to improve the quality of life in this society? In a world so vastly modernized, we should not strive to foster the validation of any ignorance toward the realities of our society-we should accept this modernization and utilize it in hopes of responding to the criticism and acting accordingly. Were there flaws in Kaepernick’s protests and portrayal of the country? Of course. Nonetheless, it is equally flawed to shine so much negative light on an act geared towards improvement that not only did not intend to disrespect veterans but also did beg for the immense attention that was garnered. Kaepernick did not rush to the newscasters to call attention to his protest but, rather, when confronted, knew exactly how to respond. He answered when asked and there need not be a limitation on that.
In an ironic but unsurprising statement by Donald Trump to KIRO in Seattle, the Republican presidential nominee said that what the 49rs QB did was “a terrible thing” and that “maybe he should find a country that works better for him.” After spending months on the campaign trail raving about how we need to “Make America Great Again”, why should Trump or his supporters have anything against someone who is actively working to improve America? And why exactly does the white man who claims that America isn’t great get to be a presidential nominee for his claims while the black man is told to leave his country for criticizing its shortcomings? If we really want to shed light on this situation, to what era are we rewinding in order to depict America in its previous “greatness?”
Patriotism should not be a dogma that indoctrinates and expects you to walk in blind faith of country and praise of national values. Patriotism should be loving your country so much that you refuse to watch it waste away and silence those who don’t share common opinion. To people like Trump, who send American jobs overseas in order to evade taxes and pay outrageously low wages, work to eliminate those who do not share their skin color or religious beliefs, and clench tightly onto their ignorance and close minded beliefs– you are not patriotic. Colin Kaepernick is.