By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
The 2016 NFL season is underway, and there’s already a so-called scandal surrounding the league.
San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick has chosen to protest inequality for minorities in America by not standing during the national anthem prior to games. During his initial protest he sat during the song, but since then he’s chosen to kneel. While some have been supportive of his protest, many have criticized him, mistaking his actions as being disrespectful or unpatriotic.
Other prominent athletes have joined Kaepernick. Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks, the Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall, and National Women’s Soccer League All-Star Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign FC have all knelt during the pre-game ritual in recent weeks. What originally started out as a surprising move by a struggling quarterback is now gaining traction.
Kaepernick has also gained the support of many fans. His jersey has been selling at a rapid pace since the protest began, and is now the top-selling jersey on nflshop.com.
However, many claim that Kaepernick is being disrespectful of the country and its military. I would argue that viewing it in that light is missing the entire point. One of the big criticisms over the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against police brutality has focused on the destructive and violent results during a small number of instances. Isn’t Kaepernick’s quiet kneeling during a song before a sporting event the perfect example of a peaceful protest?
Kaepernick isn’t inciting violence. He’s demanding change in a country that has a long history of striving to improve people’s chances at the ideals we hold dear. Americans value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and this protest— regardless of whether it results in change— is a call to continue on that path. It’s a public demand to bring attention to the inequality that still exists in this country, despite the progress that has been made over the past several decades.
Part of what makes this country great is the ability to speak out about the problems within it. Without the freedom to be critical, our country loses something. Kaepernick isn’t committing treason, he isn’t damaging the country, and he isn’t promoting anything detrimental to society. He’s peacefully refusing to participate in pageantry as a way to draw attention to a demonstrable problem. The fact that people draw meaning from the song is what makes it palpable.
There are other arguments that have been made in support of Kaepernick that involve the origin of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well. The third, mostly unused stanza includes the phrase “No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” This is regarded as a reference to the British recruiting slaves to fight against the American troops during the War of 1812. These are salient points that demonstrate how apt a choice this song is to protest.
Professional sports have been desecrated by scandals in recent years involving domestic violence, drug use, steroids, and even murder. It’s disheartening to hear such outcry over a simple protest.
I don’t know if what Kaepernick is doing is going to result in change, but with the support he’s getting from other players in the sports community, it definitely has a chance to make a difference. When the cost of that chance is a moment of discomfort for those unaccustomed to witnessing disassociation with pageantry, isn’t that a cost worth paying? This type of protest is precisely what America is about.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.