On August 26th, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, remained seated as the national anthem was played before the San Francisco 49ers faced the Green Bay Packers.
When asked about his actions, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a county that oppresses black people and people of color.”
In refusing to stand, Kaepernick declared his support for Black Lives Matter and other Civil Rights movements while placing himself against race-based discrimination, social inequality, and the oppression of people of color living in the United States.
Peaceful protest tactics have long been used by professional athletes, so Kaepernick’s stance is not out of the ordinary. Yet his actions have received a mixed reception. Some have been deeply offended by his refusal to rise for the national anthem and deem his actions anti-military. Many have burned his jersey in retaliation against his peaceful protest. However, others declare that he was exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Even President Obama has taken a stance in defense of Kaepernick.
At an interview in China on September 4, Obama affirmed that Kaepernick was “exercising his constitutional right to make a statement” during the national anthem.
The President also went on to acknowledge that, if nothing else, Kaepernick has “generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.”
In light of what has taken place, I feel that iit is crucial to ask two questions: has Kaepernick accomplished what he set out to accomplish and why does his protest matter?
When asked about why he sat during the national anthem, he stated that he did so in protest of the injustices that take place in the United States.
“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 leaving and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick said.
By sitting down, he took a stand for justice. His actions have sparked a national conversation. However, some state that his actions were inappropriate, stating that it would have been better for him to donate to charity, and being a multi-millionaire athlete, he shouldn’t complain.
Kaepernick did not commit an act of violence, spew a message of hatred and discontent, or criticize any particular person or organization. He did not march in protest of US troops or rebuke their actions. He simply sat on a bench as the national anthem was played before a football game.
He recognized an opportunity to vocalize his position on an important issue and seized that opportunity. Simply by sitting during the national anthem, he sparked a national conversation on police brutality, race relations, discrimination, inter-racial violence, and patriotism.
Judging his actions from these parameters, I believe that Kaepernick’s protest has been successful.
His peaceful protest matters because it forced people to consider issues they might normally brush under the rug. Patriotism, institutional racism, classism, American-ness, and national solidarity became hot-topics within the public sector after Kaepernick refused to stand.
Kaepernick could have donated to charity. He could have volunteered in inner-city schools. He could have done something caring, passive, and charitable. But, arguably, these actions would not have been as incendiary or influential. Because he took a seat, the nation started talking. Not only have Americans argued about the validity of his actions, they have begun to talk about the reason why he chose to sit.
What he did matters because it instigated an important conversation.
Kaepernick’s actions were controversial, yet he was fully within his legal bounds to sit in peaceful protest during the national anthem.
His protest matters to college students because it is important for us to remember that small acts of resistance can have a large impact upon society. Often, as students, we do not acknowledge that our decisions and actions are meaningful and important.
A student may march with other students during a Take Back the Night event and feel good about what they have done, yet fail to understand the monumental significance of their stance. A student may call out another student for making a sexist joke, then hesitate to take a stand the next time after the joker labels them as overly sensitive. A student may walk down the street and offer a few dollars to a homeless person without expecting gratitude in return. Each of these is an act of strength, dignity, and kindness.
We are encouraged to practice goodness, honor others, and live justly, but living in a society where good deeds and small acts often go unnoticed, yet we forget their power. We forget that it is our Constitutional right to stand up, speak out, express our opinions. Or we think that they only way to make a difference is to do something monumental.
Yet look at Kaepernick. All he did was lower his body three feet closer to the ground. Look at the conversation, controversy and actions his small deed instigated.
Regardless of personal views on this matter, it is important to remember that Americans live in a country where these conversations can take place, freedom of expression is protected, and an athlete can spark national controversy.
Consider Voltaire, “I wholly disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
This country is built upon the democratic principles that all people are created equal, all people are free to express themselves, all people have a voice and are within their right to use it (granted, when engaging in their freedom they do not infringe upon the liberties of others).
Kaepernick utilized his platform, and so can you. You can be the change, you will be the change, you are the change. Never forget that your words and actions, regardless of how large are small, have the potential to make a significant impact upon the world around you.
Collegian writer Nataleah Small can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NataleahJoy.