After an extended time of consideration, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick came to a point of personal dissatisfaction and decided to remain seated during the playing of the National Anthem for these stated reasons: “‘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 in an exclusive interview after the game. ‘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.’”
Initially, the “Army” in me stirred me to want to simply take Mr. Kaepernick to task for his actions, which from my background and culture as an Army Man, are generally considered disrespectful and outrageous. Then, I thought it might be worth taking a deeper look into the matter. In general, taking a stand in protest– or a seat - for one’s principles is an admirable undertaking. ESPN reported that while Kaepernick is ethnically bi-racial and adopted and raised by a white family, he has personally been stirred and touched by many contemporary racially charged events and has felt moved to do something. ESPN stated further that Kaepernick is seeking to learn more and to grow in his understanding of the issues of race and culture that have captured his attention.
Taking the time to listen to the ESPN piece was helpful to me in trying to sort through Kaepernick’s thinking. The life he has enjoyed and continues to enjoy because of the blessings of a compassionate family and strong personal aptitudes has placed him in a unique yet awkward position. On the one hand, he has enjoyed the very best that the nation has to offer – compassionate people, moved to meet a need have embraced him, sealed him with their own identity and afforded him benefits that have propelled him and his talent to extremely lofty heights. At the same time, I imagine there are days that he might wonder, “Why am I so fortunate? Why have I made it?” What if things hadn’t turned out right for me?”
I seem to remember a biblical account of a man who was raised as a child of privilege and in his adulthood, realized that while he flourished, others who shared his ethnic identity suffered. His first attempts to bring about justice for his oppressed people were not only ill-advised, they were disastrous – in fact, they were murderous. Yet, after 40 years of reflection in the wilderness, this man discovered His God and matured to the point that he was then able, in senior years, to not only act wisely, but actually lead his people to a better place and God’s full purpose for their lives – and his.
Perhaps sitting down during the national anthem isn’t the wisest way for a conscientious NFL quarterback to initiate a discussion of the racial issues of the day. Nevertheless, it is a way for those close to him to begin to seek opportunities to advise and educate him – and he has indicated he desires to be educated in such matters. Perhaps a great start would be helping him to look back at the contributions of Americans like the Tuskegee Airmen, or the trailblazers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Triple Nickel” or the women being highlighted in the contemporary movie “Hidden Figures” who provided critical brain power to launch NASA’s efforts to conquer space. Perhaps knowledge of these types of figures who found ways to excel when even basic rights like using a public bathroom were denied, might help him to reevaluate his approach and focus on pathways to produce, rather than platforms to protest.
Protests have their place and every American has a right to exercise their freedom to protest as they believe a situation warrants. Nevertheless, as Mr. Kaepernick takes his seat for justice, those with experience and know-how might encourage him to consider some other paths to create awareness, and challenge him to take a stand for the future that remains ahead of us, seeking to lift up others to stand with him in the process. If his heart is in the right place – and the information indicates that it probably is – this situation can lead to some powerful and productive actions towards solutions. I know that I am a lifelong learner and I remain thankful to those who have walked alongside me as I continue to sort out the critical issues of life. I hope the same for Mr. Kaepernick.
The Tuskegee Airmen
The Triple Nickel
NASA's Human Computer Project - The Women of "Hidden Figures"
Sam and Sam Jackson