Teddy Palmore '23
During the 2016-2017 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, began to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. After the season, the 49ers refused to renew his contract and Kaepernick entered free agency. For many teams, signing Kaepernick would have been an upgrade - however, as of today, he remains unsigned. Although many fans supported Kaepernick’s use of his First Amendment to protest peacefully, it angered some. At a 2017 rally for Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange, President Trump declared, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.’” Kaepernick’s high-profile protest sparked a movement among athletes that remains strong to this day.
The backlash from Kaepernick’s protest was massive. Opponents of Kaepernick’s protest believe he disrespected the flag and, by extension, military members. Furthermore, many believe that athletes should stay out of politics altogether.
Nonetheless, athletes are people too and are allowed to voice their opinions just like anyone else. Such figures have uniquely large audiences to voice these opinions and spread awareness among their fanbases.
Additionally, our military does not fight for the American flag itself, but rather the things it represents – our country’s freedoms and rights. The flag symbolizes the United States, its Constitution, and its people. Americans fought during the Revolution, the Civil War, and the two World Wars to protect the United States’ sovereignty and values, including the Constitution. Kaepernick’s expression of his First Amendment right to peacefully protest during the national anthem does not disrespect members of the military; on the contrary, protesting injustices and the use of free speech celebrates the rights so many have died to protect.
Although Kaepernick was by no means an all-time great, he was, at worst, a solid starting quarterback. When his contract ended in 2017, many teams could have upgraded their offense by signing Kaepernick. For reference, Mitch Trubisky and Brock Osweiler both started the next season. If Kaepernick’s skill was up to snuff, why wasn’t he signed? The reason is apparent. Colin Kaepernick remained unemployed because he protested police brutality and institutional racism during the national anthem. Many NFL owners were unwilling to be controversial or socially progressive despite the offensive upgrade Kaepernick would have provided.
Now take a step back and look at the whole story. Kaepernick’s peaceful protest of police brutality and systemic racism, existential injustices People of Color (POC) face in the US, resulted in his exile from the NFL. The owners sacrificed the success of their team for the sake of staying out of the fray and trying to avoid both political controversy and the negative repercussions which Kaepernick’s hire may have brought to their personal brand or team.
To many, Kaepernick’s protest crossed a line; yet, those same people are surprised and disgusted when violence breaks out. So what, in these peoples’ minds, is the right way to protest? If an athlete can’t use his platform to peacefully raise awareness about systemic racism without being exiled from his profession, how are the oppressed supposed to voice their grievances? Herein lies the fallacy in Kaepernick’s critics. They take issue with Kaepernick peacefully kneeling and are surprised when peaceful protests become violent.
The exile that Colin Kaepernick faces due to his peaceful protest during the national anthem is an excellent case study in the suppression of voices calling for change. Today, Colin Kaepernick continues his work as an activist. Athletes across all sports have begun to follow his example. They protest and spread awareness to their audiences about institutional racism. The NBA, MLB, WNBA, MLS, and NHL all postponed games out of protest in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting. The owners of professional sports teams are no longer able to suppress these voices: there are so many athletes in solidarity with the movement that exiling all of them is an impossibility. The same holds outside of sports: the more unified a group is, the harder those in power have to work to suppress their voices. Unity gets the job done.
So speak up and speak out. Never let your voice be silenced.
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