Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Sept. 8, 9 or 10
As an African-American (albeit raised by a white couple), Kaepernick, 28, understandably empathizes with victims of violence from his greater community, and recognizes that as a affluent public figure he has status to express outrage with a measure of safety.
Of course, there are consequences to taking a public stand.
Protesting racism in general and police killings of African-Americans in particular, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
“There is police brutality,” he continued. “People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change.”
The team issued a statement, saying, “We recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the National Anthem,” but there’s been a firestorm of anger and some racism at Kaepernick.
His demonstration sparked a level of scorn missing from too many people about too many shootings. The backlash now includes the Santa Clara police union threatening to withdraw protection for the team’s Levi’s Stadium – a reaction virtually proving Kaepernick’s point that some police misuse their power.
But he’s received support from some unusual places. Facts about unjustified shootings “don’t lie,” wrote sports editor Al Saracevic of the team’s hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. “Nor do the videos.” On football fields, Kaepernick last week was joined by teammate Eric Reid in kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner” before a game at San Diego, where the crowd mostly ignored it. Elsewhere, Seattle Seahawks cornerback before a game at Oakland also sat in solidarity. And some veterans also back the protest, posting comments on Twitter under the hashtag “#Veteransfor Kaepernick.”
Veterans’ comments include: “I serve to protect your freedoms, not a song” (“Marco”); “We’re actually not all self-centered racists” (Ed Beck); “Everyone should be speaking out on this. Fascism is not welcome here.” (Charles Clymer); “I didn’t volunteer to defend a country where police brutality is swept under the rug” (“Baltic Avenue”).
Kaepernick – who’s said the demonstration is not anti-military, adding that he has "great respect for the men and women who have fought for this country” – also pledged to donate $1 million to community organizations working for social-justice.
“I've been very blessed to be in this position and make the kind of money I do, and I have to help these people. I have to help these communities," said Kaepernick, who earns $19 million a year as an NFL player. “We have a lot of issues in this country that we have to deal with. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed.”
Kaepernick hasn’t mentioned objections to the National Anthem’s lyrics, but that complaint would have merit, too. Penned by slave owner Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 against the British – who freed escaping slaves when possible – “The Star Spangled Banner” has a startling reference to workers and black Americans in the third of its four original verses: “… Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution./ No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…”
One of the most perceptive observations came from NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former U.S. cultural ambassador and author. He wrote, “What makes an act truly patriotic and not just lip-service is when it involves personal risk or sacrifice. Kaepernick’s choice not to stand during the National Anthem could create a public backlash that might cost him millions in future endorsements and affect his value as a player.
“We should admire those who risk personal gain in the service of promoting the values of their country,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. “What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the National Anthem. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American.”
Instead of blasting Kaepernick, his critics might wonder why the national hasn’t lived up to the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.”
Respected baseball great Jackie Robinson saw that, writing in his 1972 memoir, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.”
[PICTURED: Former Army Ranger Rory Fanning at Wrigley Field, declining to stand for "The Star Spangled Banner" in support of Kaepernick. Photo from blacksportsonline.com.]