I love football. It’s a violent sport that, at least as we currently know it, probably doesn’t have much of a future. Even with the NFL’s disgraceful scandals, there’s a special place in my heart for the perennially disappointing Chicago Bears. Watching football is an American tradition, one that I, like most men my age, grew up watching with my dad.
I also love my country, despite all its faults, big and small. The United States was founded on the mass graves of American Indians and the backs of slaves. Despite the progress we as a country have made since then, we still have a long way to go. People of color are still disproportionately affected by violence, whether it’s at the hands of civilians or police. Racism in America is not, as the confident critics of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick have pronounced, “over.”
By now you’ve probably heard about Kaepernick choosing to remain seated during the national anthem at pre-season games. Kaepernick gave this statement to NFL.com:
“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.”
Think pieces, memes, and tweets about Kaepernick’s decision have been flooding the internet over the past few days. See the video above for a few of the more visible examples. Responses have ranged from howling condemnation to full-throated endorsement. If you’ve read the title of this article, you can probably guess which side we’re coming down on.
Put simply: it’s possible to love your country without endorsing everything it does. “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the American flag are two symbols of the United States as a nation, not as a collection of people. And as a nation, the United States does a lot of things wrong. Kaepernick specifically called out state-sponsored violence by police against people of color, but there’s much more: mass incarceration, drone strikes, the War on Drugs.
Kaepernick has every right to speak his mind. You and I don’t get to pick and choose what symbols of America mean which things to which people. To me, the flag and anthem are symbols of the whole America, with all its flaws: not just symbols of America’s hard-working people, or its veterans, or its achievements; but its repressions, its hang-ups, its injustices, as well.
What do you think? Is Kaepernick standing up for what’s right, or is he a traitor? Let us know in the comments below or @WhatsTrending on Twitter!