Colin Kaepernick, one of the quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem at the 49ers third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26. Many people voiced their strong disagreement with Kaepernick’s actions. While some showed support — mostly his colleagues in the National Football League (NFL) — others were less than pleased that he chose to sit during the national anthem. By refusing to do something that many Americans consider both customary and respectful, he is drawing attention to himself to amplify his voice as a person of color. Kaepernick’s actions were completely justified because of the simple fact that participation in the celebration of the national anthem and the flag is a choice. He is simply choosing not to honor a flag that he believes represents the oppression of people of color.
Not only is Kaepernick right to sit during the national anthem, he is doing one of the most patriotic things that someone in his position could do. It is patriotic because he is invoking his first amendment right — a right that has defined this country from the very beginning. What followed Kaepernick is — simply put — an avalanche of support by athletes across different sports. What started as one man’s protest resulted in an ongoing national discussion that has continued into the second week of the NFL season.
Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, also showed support for Kaepernick’s actions by kneeling for the national anthem prior to a match against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio September 15. She did the same thing prior to the U.S’ match against the Netherlands in Atlanta, Georgia. While the U.S. soccer federation emphasized its hope that all players would stand and honor the flag, it ultimately did not take action against Rapinoe.
We all view patriotism differently, so it is difficult to formulate a singular definition we can all support. A military veteran will understand patriotism and what is patriotic in a different way than my father — a man who hoped he would never have to serve in the military — would. This country was founded on the idea that all men are created equal. But that was 1776. It is now 2016. What have we learned in those 240 years?
I believe that he did the right thing by exercising his first amendment right — the right to free speech — to bring attention to issues of racial profiling and police brutality facing people of color around the country. Kneeling or sitting for the national anthem — and the presentation of the flag — does not disrespect the country itself, but rather shows disagreement with some of the values and the history that the flag represents.
Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem is the single most patriotic thing that any athlete in his position could have done. He is exercising his basic first amendment right to openly disagree with something that he believes to be unfair. By exercising free speech, he is preserving a basic idea on which this country was founded.