Colin Kaepernick Doesn’t Understand America

Kaepernick’s protest allowed politics to invade the sports world, which is unfortunate because sports should provide an opportunity for a break from national divisions.

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A month ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick mysteriously sat on the bench during the rendition of the national anthem, sparking everyone’s interest. Did Coach Chip Kelly relegate him to the sidelines as the backup to Blaine Gabbert? Was he injured, unable to stand or walk? Why was he sitting? The answer, it turned out, was vastly different than the assumptions: Colin Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem to protest what he believes is racial injustice and oppression with the intent of calling attention to and righting the supposed wrongs of America. An unlikely source of moral arbitration, Kaepernick’s demonstration was powerful and well-intentioned. Its effect was deafening. “When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

Kaepernick’s unceremonious demonstration is significant in a lot of ways. As a quarterback in the nation’s most popular sports league, he possesses immense clout and a national platform, with virtually every one of his action’s being closely documented by the sports media, good or bad. Whether it’s a mistake on the field, rumors of locker room turmoil, or a public relations gaffe, anything can appear on Adam Schefter’s twitter feed, especially when it strays from the norm.

In the NFL, the norm is visible patriotism. By any reasonable measure, the NFL is patriotic: elaborate national anthem ceremonies, aircraft flyovers, enormous flags, and celebrity singers are all regular features at the beginning of games. Patriotism is clearly part of the culture, and the image projected to the millions watching across the country; yet, Kaepernick broke from the pack, violating an unspoken but universally understood rule by sitting when expected to stand.

Refusing to stand for the national anthem is certainly newsworthy, and naturally, the hungry-for-attention media sunk its teeth into this all-encompassing story—a juicy package of sports, race politics, and cultural dissent—offering widespread and polarizing coverage of Kaepernick’s unique demonstration. As a matter of fact, this story has only continued to grow, attracting national attention and inspiring numerous athletes with similar sentiments to join the movement.

Fellow football players from teams around the league, along with soccer star Megan Rapinoe and other athletes, have either sat, knelt, or raised their fists in solemn protest. Even several University of Michigan football players—Channing Stribling, David Dawson, Jourdan Lewis, Khalid Hill, Mike McCray, Devin Bush and Elysee Mbem-Bosse—have chosen to take part as well, notably during the home game versus Pennsylvania State University on Saturday, September 24. It is apparent that, ever since Kaepernick took up the mantle, athletes all across the sports sphere have joined the cause.

If his goal was to receive abundant media coverage to further his movement and bring awareness, then he unquestionably succeeded; but it was through wholly unproductive means that Kaepernick was able to obtain such excessive attention. Disrespecting the national anthem alienated a substantial chunk of the population that doesn’t wish to be bombarded with political messages—especially divisive ones—during football games. It is poisonous, unproductive, and pointless to propose change while estranging the very people you wish to convince. People of all political persuasions watch sports with the expectation that they will remain apolitical American pastimes. Kaepernick’s protest allowed politics to invade the sports world, which is unfortunate because sports should provide an opportunity for a break from national divisions. They should be reserved for leisure, not the deeply divisive notions inherent to politics.

It is admirable, though, to stand up (or sit down, I guess) for an honest cause. Kaepernick is fighting for his heartfelt beliefs with conviction, but hidden under that superficial veil is a deep-seated misunderstanding of America and its values. Nobody believes America is historically faultless or ideal for all its citizens. Anyone with moral and intellectual clarity will recognize that America is not perfect. What Kaepernick may not realize is that standing for the national anthem isn’t a jingoistic gesture of mindless obedience or tacit approval of the many atrocities committed in America, past and present. Rather, it is an embodiment of solidarity and an implicit call for unity, promising community and togetherness to all Americans. Not that community in and of itself is a virtue, but the act of coming together is a powerful display that speaks to the importance of the national anthem. The anthem means far more than the misguided notions that prompted Kaepernick’s protest.

Of course, I cannot forget to emphasize his right—and my vigorous support of it—to free speech and expression. This is not in question. I only seek to criticize Kaepernick for his actions, and that needn’t come in conflict with my commitment to the preservation of freedom of speech.

America is not impervious to mistakes, immune from error. But that shouldn’t prevent anyone from standing up for the ideals it represents. It certainly won’t stop me.

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About Neil Shah

Neil is a freshman studying biochemistry in the College of Literature, Science, and Arts. He is a political junkie and an avid sports fan, particularly mixed martial arts.
  • Haleigh

    I mean I think it was alright for him to sit during the national anthem because if he felt discriminated by the national anthem he shouldn’t have to stand and act like he respects it and he stated how he felt and its not discriminating he will stand if he wanted to and he isn’t saying he has anything against America really he just has a different belief in how and what the national anthem means.

  • hayley mcgee

    i think it was okay for him to sit if he felt discriminated by it he shouldn’t have to stand and respect it. he said when he feels like its not discriminating he will stand. he doesn’t have a problem with america just the national anthem .

  • johnpjones

    Amy, In addition to myself, there are others here who clearly disagree with your “read” of Neil Shaw’s weak article. If you were to go try to make your (also weak) points with those other posters, you might get a handle on what a loser you truly are. You’re done with trying to get attention from me.

  • johnpjones

    Amy, In the mini bio at the end of the article, it states “Neil is a freshman studying biochemistry” … so, after reading that, you go on (in your second comment) to elevate Neil Shaw to the rank of “biochemist”. Hello..!! Earth to Amy … !! Please note that Neil Shaw is studying biochemistry, he is not a “biochemist” … not yet … he’s a “freshman”. Are you “implying” that he is a “biochemist”??? That’s only one example of your your inability to read text, process it, and understand its meaning. But you don’t stop there. You continue with your conspicuous idiocy. Instead of actually reading my words for understanding, you insist on putting your meanings into my words. You are hereby forbidden to use the word “innuendo” because “implication” (what you’re accusing me of) is one of its definitions. And twice you have mentioned my “spelling errors” … (???). This is the goddamned internet … people from around the world … even people whose first language might not be English … are entitled to participate. You must be a newbie who hasn’t noticed that wannabe “grammar police” are frowned upon here. Try to lose your obsessions with correcting spelling and putting your (incorrect) meanings into the words of other.. While you’re at it, also notice that among the few comments here, your defense of Neil Shaw isn’t getting much support. Perhaps you should read some the comments (?). If you do, then please try hard not to search for “spelling errors” you can pounce on simply because you need something to distract from the fact that you cannot read and actually comprehend. You “have a great day”, too … as you’re sitting in your second-grade reading class.

  • Amy

    It’s not a reflection of intelligence to be ill equiped to make sense of gibberish. It’s very poor form to ridicule a reader who can’t decipher your intended meaning thru spelling errors and innuendo. Maybe the try again belongs to you.
    Have a great day.

  • johnpjones

    Hey … got double-speak..??? When you find yourself in a hole, common sense suggests that you should stop digging.

    Nothing you can say can change your first comment … which was based on what you thought was my “implication”. (????) Do you really wanna continue to prove that you fail at reading for comprehension?

    Go back to square one and try very hard to read what I originally wrote. Then try very hard to understand it … literally … not through your personal “implication” filter. Perhaps someone will take your hand and walk you through it.

  • johnpjones

    You should really go back to school. Instead of critiquing what I actually wrote, you want to critique what you speculate is my “implication”. If you actually care about making your point, then perhaps you should try to use facts and truth. “Implication” doesn’t cut it here … and it wouldn’t cut it anywhere. I have told you that it really helps to be able to read. You seem to be challenged in that area.

  • Amy

    Now that I’ve illustrated in my response that your writing skills are at a third grade level, (*arbitrary insult reflective of your second grade remark*) perhaps you can shed some light on one of two options: in addition to spelling errors you don’t have strong recollection of your own statements OR babbling about Mr Shaw’s understanding of legal code in the wrong place.

  • Amy

    “Neil Shaw doesn’t understand America or our U.S. Constitution. There exists no U.S. law or code that mandates standing during our National Anthem” It reads that your implication is exactly what I was referring to unless, “Neil Shaw”, a different biochemist than the man who wrote this article, has misrepresented Kaepernick.

  • johnpjones

    @GODFearingMan … You’re as intelligent as @Amy. Before you talk about who “didn’t read” something, why don’t you read what @Amy wrote and then go read what I had written in my first comment here. It’s called reading. I think they teach it to second graders. Based on your handle, I reckon you fear God … that’s fine, but why do you wanna fear truth and facts. Read what @Amy wrote and then see if her observation about my comment is valid.

  • johnpjones

    @Amy … Please do point out in my comment where I said that Neil Shaw said anything about “Constitutional” or “legal code requirements”. If you wanna respond to my comment, that’s great … but it would certainly help if you FIRST read my comment. You might have read “all of Shaw’s post”, but you … obviously … did NOT read what I wrote. Go ahead and give it a second shot … after you’ve read my comment.

  • Chris Sichali Banda

    The government can not called government if there is no people, and government are there to take individual person issues as well, that is why you have fuckn social security number don’t be silly grow up kid.

  • Chris Sichali Banda

    I feel like this guy called GODfearingMan is 11year old boy who just got this story after finishing high school lesson for system oppression and he is failing to apply his lessons.

  • Truth0312

    Thank you! This response is the most asinine thing to me! And to boot, the ONLY group of people who have the right to say it (Native Americans) never do. It’s only other immigrant groups that feel they have the authority to kick people out of “their” country for disagreeing with them. If government-mandated patriotism is what they want, they should move to North Korea. Real Americans know better.

  • Truth0312

    This editorial is filled with contradictions and cultural ignorance. First, the military doesn’t own patriotism. Many well-known patriots never held a gun. Secondly, what of #veteransforkaepernick of many hues who fought for his right to peacefully protest. What of the Black veterans who fought in every American war (Crispus Attucks anyone) only to come home be treated like a subhuman? I would sit just out of respect for them. It’s arrogant to think that your view of patriotism is everyone’s view considering how diverse our country has always been. Also, it is disingenuous to get upset about an NFL player using his platform to take a stand by saying they don’t want politics in sports when the NFL has made games political with the anthem-playing, flag-waving, and jet fly overs. What people are really upset about his what he’s protesting. Everything else is smoke screen. The violence that Colin’s neutral act of defiance has been met with simply cements the point that he is making. Anti-Black sentiment in America runs very deep. Besides, what meaningful social change has ever occurred with protest that makes me people comfortable?! That makes no sense to me. Dissent is uniquely and distinctly American. People laud MLK and Ali now, but they were HATED and viewed as anti-American and labeled communist when they were speaking up for Black people a few decades ago. Revisionist history is just that.

  • Yeah

    LOL. Is this serious? I could ask you the same question. The United States of America is country founded up dissent whose Bill of Rights is founded upon freedom of speech/expression. If a man kneeling in protest during a football game bothers that much you should go live in an authoritarian country like North America where nonconformity towards mindless state authority and patriotism are punishable by law.

  • Symon Mandawala

    Neil, don’t warry about his protesting you have the right to criticise him but the good thing is that he did not harm anybody or shoot anybody to listern to him. Cops does for sure no doubt about that, he also pay tax which a salary to the cops. Warry about Tramp who did not pay tax for 15year but he wants to be a president of none tax payers. Other wise colin and you both your good and right the bad is the one damaging constitution for not paying tax. America bless America there is no God in America.

  • Symon Mandawala

    Can you mention any time you saw someone deported becaurse he doesn’t like the way detroit looks like. So if the flag is being ingonored by one person why he leave? Just because you don’t like the paint of the house then you have to move to another city just like that? You can paint any paint on that house and still live in. That is what colin and others are trying to do. If you are really a God fearing Man as your name says, ask yourself this issue by your jesus illastration of observing sabath and rescuing a your trapped animal. I according to your writings you can choose to observe sabath leaving the your animal dying on trap Contrary to jesus’s view “save life first follow the rule afterwards” if I was like you I couldent say God bless or God fearin Man at all.

  • Symon Mandawala

    I can see that you are the person who always say things are fine when you are not fine. You are arguing sound like a high school student who is writing essay. Be real dude there is a problem there is a problem. Jehovahs witness doesn’t sing any national anthem. Have you seen anyone pointing at them? Not at all. If you and your family friends see those things more important, then him he sees them less important as you see his concern with police less important. And by the way it is just a pice of clothe and a song nothing much important as a gazzet of law. Did you see any attony commenting this shit since he start? That is where you can see that it is a real piece of useless cotton and bingo lyric.

  • GODFearingMan

    Well said. If each of us refused to stand for the anthem when we feel the Govt is unjust, none of us aside From obama, clinton and congress would ever stand. Kaepernicks premise is that cops are racist. That is a collectivist opinion, it defines Bigotry. assigning an entire collective to the actions of some. ( whether the actions are perceived to you good, bad or neuter, mind you) . When you judge all by some as Colin and others are doing you are what you hate.

  • GODFearingMan

    we have 350 million people if those of us that have an issue with the Govt all protested , no one but obama, hillary and congress would ever stand, you miss the point. PS his protest was about Cops and he Colin is the bigot. He assigned all of a collective” to his view of the actions of a few. That defines bigotry. Careful lest you become what you hate

  • GODFearingMan

    Seriously, you wrote that. Why would you choose to live here, I am not telling you to leave, as long as you hurt no one I could care less either way , but why choose to live here? , in fact if you have such animus for the country if I was evil i would force you to stay. God Bless

  • GODFearingMan

    he didn’t read it obviously he is simply going on hatred. A feeling. just like Kaepernick did but Kaepernick gets it more than Johnpjones.,

  • Yeah

    Neil Shah misses the point when says that Kaepernick brought politics to an apolitical game. It was the NFL’s commercialized display of patriotism which politicized their games first. Football games are athletic contests not patriotic loyalty tests. If people like the author don’t want the Colin Kaepernicks of the league to kneel during anthems before games they should complain to Goodell’s office telling the NFL to stop playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Until then, Kaepernick will continue to exercise his First Amendment right to free expression with greater clarity of purpose and moral authority than his NFL superiors who, until not long ago, were receiving payment from the US armed forces to display its military propaganda during their games.

  • Amy

    Please do point out where “Neil Shaw” (sic) says it is a Constitutional or legal code requirement to stand. I read all of Shah’s post, must’ve missed it.

  • Steve Wyatt

    “Rather, it is an embodiment of solidarity and an implicit call for unity, promising community and togetherness to all Americans.”

    People of Colour and other minorities have been standing for the anthem for a long time, hoping for that unity that it promises, yet they’ve been denied time and time again. Perhaps it’s best he sits down or kneels, so that everyone else can see that not everyone is included in that ideal. This protest isn’t for people working towards that goal of unity and equal opportunity, it’s for those that would deny it. If you feel pride in your heart for the country you’re in and the opportunities given to you, that’s fantastic. Now return that gift you’ve been given, and open your heart and kneel in unity with those who haven’t. If you do, you can have that much more pride when it’s time to stand again.

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  • johnpjones

    Neil Shaw doesn’t understand America or our U.S. Constitution. There exists no U.S. law or code that mandates standing during our National Anthem. I doubt that Colin Kaepernick’s football contract mandates that he stands during our National Anthem. Others in sports and elsewhere have refused to stand in protest to injustices they see in our great America. Instead of writing about issues of substance such as Native Americans protesting the potential environmental damage to “American” land .. or writing about Palestinians who’ve been oppressed for 68 years … or other injustices where lives might be in the balance, Neil Shaw wants to wrap himself in our flag as if he’s a “patriot” and Colin Kaepernick is not. Neil Shaw should stick to “biochemistry”, and try placing his humanity above his “politics” and his professed nationalism.