Colin Kaepernick’s Controversy That Shouldn’t Be One

The past week has been nothing short of a frenzy after Colin Kaepernick’s controversial and symbolic statement he made before a preseason NFL game in Santa Clara, California, by sitting during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

This is something Americans do not take lightly, but it is also another example of today’s America choosing to magnify and over-analyze a black man’s actions. It is especially perplexing when it is something that other professional athletes have done in the past.

Anyone remember Jackie Robinson? The baseball player and American icon that so many to this day revere?

He was also the man who wore number 42, the number every major league baseball player wears on April 15 along with some fans.

In Robinson’s 1972 autobiography titled, “I Never Had It Made,” he talked about how he made the decision that he could not “stand and sing the anthem,” nor “salute the flag.” Kaepernick’s statement resembles Robinson’s:

Robinson spoke on America’s racism:

 “Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

Sounds familiar to Kaepernick’s statement: “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. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This also reminds me of the multiple occasions where athletes didn’t stand for the anthem. Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War in 1966. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists saluting black power at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf also refused to participate in the American ritual in 1995. Former Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player, Kendrick Perkins, chose to go to the locker room to relieve himself during the anthem as well.

There are still many racists in America, obviously. Racists that honestly believe blacks should be forever grateful for the “privilege” of not being slaves anymore.

While pondering on this topic, I thought about the people who filmed Kaepernick while he refused to stand during the anthem— better yet, every sporting event. Technically speaking, aren’t they supposed to do the same thing?

How does their profession trump this country’s rituals? As a journalist, covering the Oklahoma City Thunder games and standing about 10-feet from the players on the court, I too decided not to put my hand over my heart as well. Am I also at fault?

My point is that all of these things are ritualistic. They are things that people do but don’t have to do if they don’t want to; this is a country of free speech and expression.

That is exactly what Kaepernick did. Someone may argue that, in return, people have the right to subsequently bash him for what he did. That is true as well, but before you do that, think about how America has and continues to treat blacks.

Kaepernick is a washed-up quarterback at this point, which may be what fueled such significant controversy. Would it have held more weight if he was still the superstar quarterback that San Francisco once possessed before a quick and sudden decline?

It is ironic that blacks are expected to remain civilized, protest with our words but cannot “get too emotional” about a topic because if they do, it is disrespectful. But when whites take a stand or speak their mind on a topic close to their hearts, they are simply “expressing what they believe in.”

Whether you want to admit it or not, this country was built on racism and slavery. The author of “The Star- Spangled Banner” is Francis Scott Key, a slave owner in his time.

The third verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” also raises some eyebrows, because it contains a couple of lines where one may believe slavery is mentioned.

The two lines are as follows:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

These lines were penned by Key on Sept. 13, 1814. If written today, it may mean something entirely different, but 200 years ago slavery was widely accepted and also the driving force in America’s early economy.

How could you look at these two lines and think Key meant something different?

Nevertheless, Kaepernick is a very bold man and although I would’ve at least stood up for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” his stance is respected and understood.

Knowing the history of America and the current situation at hand, with blacks, still in 2016, being unjustly slaughtered by men in uniform, try to understand where Kaepernick is coming from.

Remove yourself and your bias for this country for a few moments and view it as a black person in America that has been racially profiled, or treated unfairly because of color.

View it as Trayvon Martin’s family, Mike Brown’s family or someone who’s lost a member of their family because they “appeared” to be a threat for whatever the reason.

Don’t blame Kaepernick for what he did. Realize what he did, then agree or disagree and move on.

About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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