One can argue that the 49ers quarterback’s demonstration — sitting during the national anthem Friday before a preseason game — was ill-timed, offensive and disrespectful. But if he had taken a less controversial approach, would you have noticed?
Carmelo Anthony. Dwyane Wade. Michael Bennett.
Maya Moore. Leonard Fournette. Michael Jordan, too.
All are athletes who have spoken out on social injustice in recent months.
And then there’s Colin Kaepernick — who actually has people talking.
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The 49ers quarterback’s choice to sit during the national anthem Friday before an exhibition game has sparked outrage in every state in the Union. However, it also has sparked a fervent dialogue whose intensity continues to grow.
One certainly can argue that Kaepernick’s demonstration was ill-timed, offensive and disrespectful. But if he had taken a less controversial approach, would you even have noticed?
There is a big difference between taking a position and taking a risk. The aforementioned athletes should be commended for using their platform, but there was no potential sacrifice when they did.
Sports history shows that, sometimes, the best way to unite people is to divide people first. So though you can contend that Kaepernick’s actions were insulting — you can’t say they were ineffective.
Think about the sports figures who are most revered for their political stances. They often are the ones who ticked the most people off. Muhammad Ali refusing to fight in Vietnam drew the ire of half the country, as did Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics. And though I’m not saying Kaepernick’s protest had anywhere near the same impact, the execution was in the same vein.
After the game Friday, everybody wanted to know what the veteran QB was thinking. The attention Kaepernick created was 50 times larger than it would have been had he just randomly vented to the media.
People were as curious as they were furious. And when the questions came, Kap was ready.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “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.”
Two days later, Kaepernick gave a more expansive interview in which he chided police brutality and the short (six-month) time frame required to become a cop. He condemned Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for acts of bigotry and recounted moments in which police drew guns on him and his friends for no reason.
Did he offer ground-breaking insight regarding race relations in this country? No. But he was educated enough to defend his stance.
Of course, since sitting out The Star-Spangled Banner, Kaepernick has experienced a combination of backing and backlash. Dr. Harry Edwards, the renowned sociologist who organized the Black Power salute, said he supports Kaepernick in “stating his opinions, the method and vehicle he has chosen to employ toward those ends, and his willingness to face the consequences for doing so.”
Vikings guard Alex Boone, meanwhile, feels Kaepernick essentially lifted a middle digit to the military.
And then there’s Richard Sherman, who thought Kaepernick’s message came from “a good place,” but that he “probably could have picked a better platform and a better way to do it.”
Funny thing is … Kaepernick might end up having a lot in common with Sherman down the road. It was Sherman, remember, who polarized the country before building a reputation as one of the more thoughtful personalities in sports.
Now, the Seahawks cornerback is a media go-to for all things political and social. That might not have been the case if he had taken an alternate path to fame.
Ultimately, Kaepernick’s future actions will determine how his past actions are viewed. He has put himself in a position in which he has to stay educated and active.
This can’t be a phase. This must be a long-term commitment. And even if he stays the course, it’s impossible to know if he will engender any real change.
What is certain, however, is that Colin Kaepernick has his convictions. He gave this protest thought and took a stand by sitting.
You can debate back and forth about whether he made the right decision. But if the goal is to get people talking, he made the necessary one.