This is your “fair warning”: Not everything in my life is happiness and rainbows. I’m a huge believer in the protest started by Colin Kaepernick and continued on in greater numbers each week by other players, teams, and even some coaching staff. I firmly hold that change begins when when a singular person says, “Enough.” When an individual chooses to freely express themselves via protest, and goes so far as to do so in a manner that Americans have always said is preferable (don’t disrupt anything, be silent and be still), that individual is trying to point out an injustice. They are saying “Enough!” And we need to listen.
What started the protest? Who took the first knee?
Colin Kaepernick, the darling of the West Coast Offense of the San Francisco 49ers, became the center of media attention (and the center of a whirlwind of hatred) on 26 August 2016 during the Niners pre-season loss to the Green Bay Packers. It was the third preseason game, the first in which he would be in uniform, and he sat during the National Anthem. He’d done so for the first two games of the preseason as well but as he wasn’t in uniform, no one seemed to notice. Later, when asked by NFL.com as to why he sat, his response was both simple and complex.
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.
Several days later, an article appeared in the Army Times. It was an op-ed piece written by a man named fmr. Staff Sergeant Nate Boyer and it was an open letter to Colin Kaepernick. In the article, Mr. Boyer expresses both his initial anger and his willingness to listen. Most importantly, he clearly states “I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right.” which has been the source of some controversy over just the last few weeks. This letter led to a meeting between the two men, during which time it was agreed between the two men that kneeling (instead of sitting) would show his respect for those who have served while still maintaining his protest against the injustices occurring daily. During the Niners final preseason game on 1 September 2016, Kaepernick and fellow Niners player Ed Reid took a knee in silent protest during the anthem.
“I don’t understand your protest.”
Not everyone understands the injustices that forced Mr. Kaepernick to take a seat in the first place because not everyone lives with injustice as a part of their lives. Now, before you get started on that argument you just took a deep breath for, yes Colin Kaepernick was adopted by a white family and raised by them. Yes, he’s very wealthy because of his skill set (money he donates to worthy causes all the time). But having a white family and money doesn’t change the way people look at you. It doesn’t take away the sting from the first time someone hurled an insult at you because of the way you look, especially if it’s something you can’t control, such as melanin. Believe me, if I could control the amount of melanin in my skin, I’d never have another bloody sunburn again. Society tends to argue things based on experience. If enough people have an experience and they talk about it, society starts to notice. If they don’t see it, they almost willfully argue against it because “it’s not happening to me.” You don’t see the Queen having a wee either but we accept on face value that she does, in fact, pee.
Other forms of protest
History shows us that change begins when people have had enough and these individuals stand up to say “Hey, this isn’t right!”
Martin Luther King, Jr
Booker T Washington
These were all influential individuals who led the way towards great social change. Each of them has been praised by history but, during their time, were reviled by their contemporaries. Each marked as “troublemakers” and society attempted to silence them over and again. Look any of them up and you’ll find suffering and misery surrounding their fight but they kept going. Why? What could keep someone going so long?
Colin Kaepernick’s protest
In the ensuing year, it has been a back and forth battle that has, unfortunately, cost the quarterback his job. He was released by San Francisco but hasn’t been signed by any other team. The reasons vary from people expressing their outrage that he dare to protest, to claiming he’s a “fair” quarterback that had run out of gas, to a certain elected official igniting the fury of their fan base in a seeming endless rage!Tweet episode. Players across the league have continued to take a knee during the anthem but it hasn’t been a systemic change. Some stated the reason they didn’t was selfish; they were terrified that if they took a knee, they would find themselves cut. So they stayed quiet. A few brave souls but mostly, the silent protest was just … extra silent. Which is how we’ve always been told a protest should be. But now, said protest is coming under fire as, once again, the elected official in question demanded all players who participate be “fired”. The following Sunday, nearly every player knelt, along with owners, other sports greats (Bill Russell took a knee. Bill fucking Russell.), and scientists all took a knee in support.
Mr. Kaepernick sat, and then knelt, to protest police abuse, brutality, inequality, and racism. In the ensuing year, his message has been crystallised and diluted, depending on who you listen to. NFL owners, some of whom have openly said they wouldn’t dare bring him to their team, are now proclaiming “Unity” through their protest. Roger Goodell himself released a statement that reads like a watered down piece of toast (I don’t like him, can you tell?). But unity with what? What are these individuals uniting for? Is it to confuse the issue and get it out of the media? Is it to show that they believe in granting equality across the board, regardless of whether you are black, white, Hispanic, or Polynesian?
Modern America’s answer
The problem with those issues is that you cannot pick and choose which freedoms an American is guaranteed. All Americans are granted all their freedoms, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is no time at which anyone is not allowed to express and exercise their First Amendment rights. You cannot hide behind “Oh, but what about our Veterans?” for your bigotry because, when asked, most are going to tell you they fought to prevent people’s rights from being exploited. And the protest has never been about the flag itself. In fact, Mr. Kaepernick adopted the suggestion of taking a knee specifically to show honour to the flag and those who died for what it represents.
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Now read it again.
Now a third time.
One nation with liberty and justice for all. Not just this group, not just when you want to hear it, not just for whites, or men, or Christians.
Sit down, shut up, and keep your mouth shut if you think NFL players should suck it up and keep swallowing the bullshit that comes with being a man of colour and get fined or fired for their beliefs.
What if Rosa Parks had just given up her seat to keep white people happy?
D. Jordan Padrona
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