Anyone who knows me could probably guess that I disagree with 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick and his decision to sit during the playing of the national anthem. His inaction has initiated a firestorm of controversy. My initial reaction was a visceral one and I needed time to digest the “why” of my reaction and feelings on the subject. I’ll admit, I can be cautiously deliberative, even slow to getting to these timely issues, but I’m willing to finally take a stab at it. These are volatile and interesting times and the domestic landscape is wrought with tension about a myriad of subjects, not the least of which are the inequities associated with our treatment of people of color in several facets of American life. So, while I agree the topic deserves to be discussed and that action is required to ensure these discussions bear fruit, I disagree with how Mr. Kaepernick has chosen to bring light to the subject and here is the “why” for me.
These kinds of statements and actions matter. We have given a platform to our athletes and entertainers. People, specifically our children, do listen and watch them. I can trace the seeds of my own ideas of patriotism and service to the background of a former NFL player. As a young child, I was fascinated by the path he had chosen, to serve our country and then move on to his career in the NFL. It wasn’t the only component contributing to my ideas about service, but it certainly played a part. Our kids are watching and we have to make sure they understand the foundations of the discussion and how they might better impact the outcomes, even if Mr. Kaepernick does not understand these imperatives (as I have yet to hear an articulation beyond his statement that black people are being oppressed).
Kaepernick and his decision bring light to the current situation, but does very little to effect the outcomes needed to change the narrative. Additionally, I would assert that he does not quite understand what we are doing when we salute our flag. The flag of the United States is a non-verbal vision statement. On sight it embodies our history while outlining a path to our future. The cloth uniquely occupies a place in our collective being representative of our past, present and future. The anthem and flag were born in an imperfect society. By all accounts, we are still imperfect and will continue to be so for the duration of our existence. The ideals, for which the flag embodies, are aspirational.
The flag and our anthem are symbols and are meant to serve as a vision of where we would like to be and an acknowledgement of the blood, sweat, pain and tears shed in marching towards this objective. To sit shows disrespect for the efforts involved in bringing us towards our vision and frankly, it doesn’t help the outcomes of those for whom he claims to be trying to help.
This country is constantly moving forward in its development and evolution. It is the nature of humanity, governments and societies that they evolve and hopefully progress. Some issues take longer to grapple with than others and clearly the issue of race is a colossal one for the United States, maybe the one which will always prevent it from fully realizing its aspirational goals. It is a difficult topic to fully digest and an issue which requires us to accept some hard truths about our history and how persistent inequalities might impact our current outcomes.
We may not arrive at this destination in our lifetime, nor in that of the immediate generations that follow, but it doesn’t mean we are on the wrong path. Lives have been lost in supporting the ideals of the anthem and flag (lives across the racial spectrum) and many more will be lost to this effort over the course of history. Were the anthem and flag created in a perfect environment? No. But that doesn’t mean that the ideals for which they have come to embody are not perfect in their aspirational tone and nature.
The US Constitution is itself an aspirational document. How else can you write a document about the guarantees of liberty, justice and the freedoms of man whilst treating whole sections of the human race as chattel? The Constitution serves as a great foundation; probably the best start in history for a nation aspiring to greatness, but it is meant to be revisited and adjusted when the course of events dictates.
Colin Kaepernick is attempting to bring light to an important issue, but I believe his choice, while igniting well-intended conversation, is less helpful to actual outcomes. The outcomes are what matters. He might be better served by supporting inner city efforts to conduct dialogue between police departments and the communities they serve; or supporting recruiting efforts by departments to more accurately reflect the communities they serve; or helping to address the issue of widespread violence within communities of color. The list is long and nowhere, given the access to money and the platform of the NFL, is there value in sitting while the national anthem is played. In fact, while I’m sure that he has had to put some thought into his reasons for not standing since the media noticed, I’m less sure that he understood what he was trying to accomplish by conducting the act when he formulated his plans. In the field of discussion and action this is not where Mr. Kaepernick needs to be positioned.
I spoke about my own inspiration to serve earlier and how a seed was planted by an NFL player. In our country, we have given an unusually laudable platform to our athletes and entertainers. I’m not in the camp which believes that they should be silent and simply deliver their gifts and accept their enviable pay. I do, however, believe they should think more about what they are trying to accomplish and then engage in a way that is helpful to bringing about positive outcomes. To simply speak and do thought provoking things followed by a retreat to their homes postured on high-cliffs overlooking the roughness for which they have commented is disingenuous, at best.
Stand for the national anthem because you acknowledge the effort to serve the vision for which it stands and the many who have given their lives in this pursuit. Show respect for the struggle. The vision is a perfect one, the execution is messy and not always on target.