Colin Kaepernick has been one of the most divisive figures of 2016 and may go down as one of the most divisive sports figures of all-time. Until this year, the quarterback was mostly known for kissing his biceps and leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl, but now Colin Kaepernick is synonymous with a discussion on a whole slew of social issues and societal ills.
The only problem with this is we seem concerned with discussing everything surrounding Colin Kaepernick except the actual societal issues he is trying to address: the inequitable treatment of minorities in the United States.
Kaepernick’s protest of perceived societal ills first took the form of a silent protest. He quietly sat for the national anthem for the first three preseason games of the 49ers’ 2016 campaign. When he was questioned about it, he had this to say:
“That’s something, that, this country stands for liberty, freedom, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now. … I’ll continue to sit. I’m continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change, and when there’s significant change and I feel that that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people in the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
He made it abundantly clear from his statement above as to why he was protesting: he believes that minorities are on the receiving end of inequitable use of force by police officers and receive unduly harsh sentences in the criminal justice system. Whether you agree with him or not, the perception is a matter that in a free and open society, is one worth discussing. What did we discuss?
Flags. The anthem. The military. Decades of military industrial complex fetishism, heightened by post-9/11 jingoism has allowed the armed forces to hijack the flag as a symbol of their fight and their fight only. To them, it is no longer a symbol of the citizens whose rights they defend, as they have become gatekeepers of the flag domestically. Rights like Colin Kaepernick’s right to sit for the national anthem. People decried Kaepernick, saying he was disrespecting the military, and the debate did not become about Kaepernick’s actual protest.
The nation instead debated if Kaepernick was disrespecting the military, not about if Colin Kaepernick was right, and if he was, what could be done to fix things. Instead, we argued about if Colin Kaepernick should be able to exercise his First Amendment rights. The core of the issue was successfully deflected, and we went on not talking about the core issues Kaepernick was trying to have a national discussion about.
Now, Kaepernick is not guiltless in distracting from his core cause. Two clothing gaffes and his voting record have allowed his detractors yet another discussion point rather than a frank and open discussion on race in the United States. Kaepernick was spotted wearing socks that depicted cops as pigs during a training camp session, and instead of social issues, we discussed that.
Kaepernick wore a shirt depicting a historic meeting between Malcolm X and Fidel Castro, and when he visited Miami, we discussed that.
Though the Castro-Malcolm X shirt was worn months ago, it became a topic of conversation when Armando Salguero questioned him on it before a game in Miami. Colin Kaepernick’s comments on Fidel Castro were misconstrued to be in support of the brutal dictator. Kaepernick later clarified, stating his comments were taken out of context:
“What I said was I agree with the investment in education. I also agree with the investment in free universal healthcare as well as the involvement in him helping end apartheid in South Africa. I would hope that everybody agrees those things are good things. And trying to push the false narrative that I was a supporter of the oppressive things that he did is just not true.”
But unfortunately, Kaepernick made the mistake of not 100% renouncing every single thing Castro did in the city that hates Castro more than any city in the world. So we discussed that. We didn’t discuss the fact that he has a very valid point about splitting up families when it was mentioned as one of Castro’s sins.
Instead, we discussed the optics of the situation, and we discussed how Kiko Alonso is Cuban and stopped Kaepernick short of the game-winning score, and we discussed Fidel Castro (though the leader’s death had to do with that, too).
And don’t think I didn’t see you with the massive Malcolm X on your shirt after the Miami game, Colin. I see what you did there.
Then we come to the most current distraction: Colin Kaepernick is a hypocrite. I’ll say it. I am pro-Kaepernick’s cause of rights education and raising the esteem among minority youths to show that they are valued members of society. It’s hard to be against that.
But, to take a knee and say you are standing for people to have the right to live in a free and open society while not exercising the basic right of that society?
Not even once in your life?
That’s unconscionable, literally un-American. It’s fine if Kaepernick wanted to abstain from voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, especially in a state that was Clinton’s the moment she was named as the nominee. However, there were propositions in this very election that helped Kaepernick’s underlying cause… and he abstained.
And the fact that I just spent a paragraph of this article discussing his voting record is part of the problem.
Yes, Kaepernick should have voted for something once in his life. That issue certainly isn’t helping prove his point, but the main problem is that we are content discussing everything about Colin Kaepernick’s campaign but the actual campaign itself. The closest we get is decrying him because we misconstrue his statements that there are systemic issues as him saying that every cop is out to murder black children.
If you ask Kaepernick point blank, he would (likely) tell you that that flat out isn’t true, but a systemic issue is present. Let’s not forget the San Francisco Police Department demanding an apology because of the implication that they had racist officers on their staff… after literal evidence was found there are racist officers on the SFPD staff. This should have been a jumping off point for discussions and reform.
If it is, in fact, a few officers that are spoiling the whole bunch, then we need to root out and oust these officers. If you are diagnosed with cancer, wouldn’t you want the offending cells removed? Or would you say that not all your body has cancer and that everything is fine?
The bad officers are the cancer, and they need to be rooted out, and nobody can dispute that fact. It may not be as endemic as Kaepernick believes, but it is widespread. And it needs to be fixed.
We seem content to discuss the optics of Colin Kaepernick’s protest and to shift the conversation about a frank conversation about race relations in this country. It’s a discussion that needs to be had, and it is going to be a difficult conversation. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened racists across the country, which means we need to figure this out sooner rather than later, and we need to stop distracting ourselves with the optics at the fringe of the conversation, rather than the core issues. We need to stop talking about flags, about pig cop socks, about Castro shirts and about voting records.
The conversation is going to be difficult, and we need to stop distracting ourselves from it. There’s no way to fix the system cancers that plague our nation before the sickness overruns us all if we are too scared to have the conversation and distract ourselves by re-framing it.