San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked controversy after he was spotted sitting as the national anthem played during a preseason game Aug. 26. Asked why he chose to sit during the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the athlete said the move was a political statement against racism and police killings of blacks.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said.
“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.”
While Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson called the quarterback a “truth-teller,” and others compared him to athletes Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith—who made bold stands against racism decades earlier—Kaepernick had his fair share of critics.
Actors James Woods and Christopher Meloni took to social media to criticize him and a fan filmed himself burning a Kaepernick jersey. Bigots flooded the quarterback’s social media accounts with racial slurs, threats, demands that he leave the country and accusations that he disrespected veterans. Other critics suggested Kaepernick sat during the anthem for publicity and is too wealthy to be oppressed. But these attacks on the football player are largely shortsighted, no matter how one feels about the national anthem or patriotism.
The long history of oppression people of color have experienced in the United States makes their decision to embrace patriotism (or reject it) both a political and personal matter.
What About the Veterans?
Self-proclaimed patriots have argued that Kaepernick’s anthem protest is an insult to veterans.
But this argument assumes that veterans are a monolithic group who feel the same about patriotism, police brutality and freedom of expression. It also overlooks that veterans, such as Walter Scott, have been police killing victims.
A number of veterans, however, have grasped the complexity of Kaepernick’s