San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick is known for escaping tight situations on the football field.
In his prime, he could elude most elite pass rushers with a quick sidestep and a strong, stiff arm.
But now, Kaepernick has put himself in a situation he may never escape.
Before the Green Bay Packers and the 49ers took the field Aug. 26, Kaepernick made a silent statement by taking a seat on the bench during the national anthem. After the game, Kaepernick told reporters that he refused to stand and honor a country that suppresses racial minorities.
His actions sparked controversy, prompting players and coaches to offer their two cents on how and why Kaepernick decided to sit, what the national anthem means and how best to show respect for one’s country.
Voices outside football also gave their opinion. The “Veterans for Kaepernick,” a movement showing support for the quarterback, gained traction on social media. Meanwhile, some NFL executives called him a “traitor,” according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman.
The most important thing to remember is what Kaepernick did was not illegal. It was tactless, ill-advised and disrespectful, but not illegal. Sitting during the national anthem breaks no law, no matter how many other people are standing and singing along. So, no, Kaepernick is not a “traitor” to this country.
The other misconception is he aimed his actions toward the military. Kaepernick quickly debunked this.
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” Kaepernick said in a news conference Sunday. “I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.”
Granted, choosing not to show respect for a flag that represents all of America, including its military, can be interpreted as a sign of distaste toward those who risk their lives in combat. Again, that is Kaepernick’s largest flaw. His method was questionable; his motivation was not.
He aimed to make a statement that was unfortunately misunderstood.
That statement is what many are missing, and is far more important than what anyone else is saying. If the flag and the anthem are taken out of the equation, the situation changes dramatically. This is a man in the spotlight doing his best to bring attention to a glaring problem in American society.
Time magazine reported that in the past six years, four out of five people in Chicago shot by police were black. The disastrous events in July in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas are just several reminders of how little this problem has been resolved.
“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick told ESPN. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
That is the conversation Kaepernick is trying to start. He does not want this to be about a formal sign of respect or freedom of speech. He wants to stop violence. He wants to end the suffering. He wants change.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill