As star athletes including LeBron James, Richard Sherman, and Chris Paul have supported causes for social justice, they have blurred the seemingly permanent line between the sports world and the real world. This intersection between two worlds has sparked an animated discussion between die-hard sports fans and those who could not tell you what “touchdown” means.
So, I figure, why not fuel this discussion by voicing my thoughts on the issues athletes bring to the table? That’s what this blog is about: whether athletes have the wrong or right of it on the issues of the day.
I’ll start with the most prominent and polarizing of these issues: the rapidly spreading protest of the national anthem, first started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick said he kneeled because he will not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” More specifically, Kaepernick cited the number of unarmed black people shot by police officers. According to the Washington Post, African-Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be fatally shot by police officers. In addition, mappingpoliceviolence.org states nearly 1 in 3 black people shot were unarmed.
Kaepernick has used his platform as an athlete to drive conversation and create change. He acted on his desire to bring to attention a norm in society that he believes is against the values of America. He has forced all those watching, both those who approve and those who denounce him, to face the reality that many people feel this country does not protect all of its citizens. He has inspired more players, and entire teams, to take a stand.
For that, he should be applauded.
Yet many have become preoccupied with the way in which Kaepernick chose to advocate for his beliefs, which allows them to ignore his point.
They have argued that in kneeling, Kaepernick disrespects the military. But this protest has absolutely nothing to do with the military. In fact, Kaepernick confirmed he has “great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country.”
While I certainly respect the service of military members, we need to realize that this argument simply displays the ignorance that allows the oppression of blacks to continue. Decrying the modes of protest in fact dishonors the struggles of blacks in this country. It ignores the fact that people in this country already feel disrespected. Instead of worrying whether this protest is politically correct, we should focus on what we can do to make this country a safer place for everyone.
Others have also stated that Kaepernick is somehow “un-American” in refusing to stand for the national anthem. But isn’t what makes America a progressive country, a free country, the willingness for people to stand up for what they believe in? In exacting his first amendment right, Kaepernick has tried to make this country better. Can we honestly say Kaepernick is not truly American just because he hopes to change the injustice he sees in our country?
That’s why I think the most appalling backlash to this protest is the suggestion that Kaepernick “should find a country that works better for him,” as President-elect Donald Trump put it. This statement suggests that America is not a country that welcomes change; that America will no longer respond to the thoughts of its citizens. This is the true definition of “un-American.”
When thinking about this protest, we have to remember: change is not achieved through modesty, but through shocking statements and protests that create discussion and force us to consider how we can do better. Recall the iconic image from the 1968 Olympics: American medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in the air, protesting for civil rights. Politically correct? No. Creator of discussion? Yes. The same is true of Muhammad Ali’s protest of the Vietnam War, for which he was banned from boxing for three years.
Today is no different. We cannot afford to stifle the efforts of those hoping to improve our society through non-violent protests. We must focus on creating, not rejecting, change in our fight to better the lives of all Americans.