In early September of 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made waves in the media that would crash across the U.S. like a racially charged tsunami. The national anthem began playing and the former super bowl starter dropped to a knee in protest of police brutality against the African American community across the nation. As footage of this action started hitting social media, he became a hero to some and a villain to others. While the drama intensified, Kaepernick suddenly found himself without a home in the NFL.
Fast forward two years and while Kaepernick is still a vigorous voice for minority rights, he is also still unemployed. Furthermore, the controversies surrounding his actions are still unsettled and on the minds of many Americans.
Those who see him as a villain argue that he simply declined in talent and that his actions are a P.R. stunt. Those who hold him up as a hero believe that despite the decline in his numbers before his departure from the league, his unemployment has less to do with his ability and more to do with his political views and consistent protests.
For over two years, the debate raged and divided fans across the league, even gaining attention from the U.S. President as well as many celebrities and other athletes from various sports.
This year, the week before the NFL opening day, 2018, NIKE released their new “Just Do It” campaign and shocked the world when they named Colin Kaepernick the face of that campaign with the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”.
Kaepernick currently has a lawsuit filed against the NFL related to his inability to get employment in the league. He is also the first player in the modern civil rights era to be in a position where his political views are possibly keeping him from obtaining employment. Furthermore, NIKE has now made Kaepernick, who hasn’t taken a snap in over two years, the face of their new multibillion-dollar campaign. If it wasn’t known to all whose side NIKE was on, it’s fairly obvious now.
One of the primary arguments made by those who feel kneeling is disrespectful is centered around the perceived disrespect to veterans as well as current members of the United States Military. Yet, this becomes hypocritical reasoning when those using the argument fail to get input from those veterans and military members they love to invoke.
Many veterans, like myself, believe that the first amendment guarantees one the right to peacefully protest as they see fit without the fear of negative repercussion. Those who oppose kneeling as an acceptable form of protest often invoke the name of Pat Tillman who gave up an NFL career to serve his country after 9/11 and was tragically killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire in 2004.
Jon Krakauer, the author of Tillman’s Biography, said “I have no doubt that if he were in the NFL today, he would be the first to kneel.” I feel somewhat connected to Pat Tillman through those words because the freedom he chose to fight for is the same freedom that Colin Kaepernick is still fighting for today. The difference is the battleground.
As military members, we serve as a unit. Black, white, brown, purple, green or red one’s color doesn’t matter when the unit is in danger. That mentality is why so many veterans and military members understand that the quality of life in America for the “unit” as a whole far outweighs the hurt feelings of those who fail to understand the underlying issues being protested.
As Beto O’Rourke said during a campaign rally when asked about this topic, “Reasonable people can disagree on this issue, let’s begin there. And it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue, right?” There are some problems we should all be able to agree on though.
There is a problem in this country with unarmed black males being killed by police and an even bigger issue with those officers being subsequently set free to go about their lives with little if any repercussion. I, as a Caucasian male, do not feel as if I have to fear the police, but many African American citizens do not have such a luxury. If kneeling during the anthem can somehow put a stop to those feelings of fear, then I’ll kneel with Kap.