Several years ago, I wrote the above blogpost about a young quarterback for the San Francisco Forty-Niners who had gotten himself into a bit of contoversy over his tattoos. I was sympathetic. Even though I generally hate tattoos, I came to his defense, taking the position that he shouldn't be judged solely on the amount of ink on his body, but rather by the overall quality of his character. Well, now he is once again in the news. During the playing of the national anthem before a recent pre-season game, Kaepernick refused to stand. After the game, he explained his decision to the press...
"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 is not something that I am going to run by anybody, I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
When Kaepernick first ran afoul of public opinion, he was a bright comet lighting up the NFL with his aggressive style of play and amazing athleticism. He took the Forty-Niners to the Super Bowl that year and seemed destined for greatness. But it's been a tough several years for the gifted quarterback since. In the NFL, defenses adjust to comets eventually, so the comet has to adjust accordingly. Kaepernick hasn't been able to do that and now finds himself in a pitched battle with the pedestrian Blaine Gabbert to be the backup quarterback for his team...quite a precipitous fall from stardom.
Reaction among other players has been mixed. Some applauded his decision, others disagreed but defended his right to protest, others objected, calling it disrespectful to all of the men and women who have given their lives to protect us and our freedom. More cynical voices accused him of being a malcontent who can't handle his reduced role, and is seeking attention. Still others chided him for spending too much time thinking about politics and not enough time studying the playbook. It's been a very mixed bag.
I fall into the mixed category. My view on the national anthem is that when it is played at public events, respect needs to be shown. I always remove my hat, face the flag, put my hand over my heart, and sing along. Doing so does not mean that I am thrilled to the gills with every single thing going on in the country at that particular time. Neither does it mean that I support every action taken by my government, now or in the past. For me, it's an acknowledgment of gratitude that I was born here. It's a tip of the hat to all of the men and women who have sacrificed everything for the preservation of this Republic. And yes, to a certain extent, it's about...love of country...despite its many sins...love.
But, this isn't the 1970's Soviet Union. Love of country isn't coerced by gunpoint. One of the truly great things about America is that we make room for dissent. No... we don't love dissent, we don't celebrate it, but we make room for unpopular opinions. If Colin Kaepernick feels that his country is oppressing blacks and doesn't feel that he in good conscience can stand with his teammates while the national anthem is played...so what? The only thing worse than no patriotism is forced patriotism. So, I say once more....give the guy a break.