The backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, sparked a national controversy on Friday when he refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game. His actions unleashed a tidal wave of criticism from the public, with 49ers fans burning Kaepernick’s jersey.
However, the question is, should the nation really demonize the NFL player’s decision to remain seated for the national anthem? After all, it was a powerful stance against social injustice and systemic racism.
The biracial athlete explained it all in his own words.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told the NFL Network on Friday night. “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 leave and getting away with murder.”
Rising during the national anthem is "encouraged but not required," according to the NFL.
But, with all the recent racially charged incidents of police brutality and violence in the United States, Kaepernick’s resolution to not stand up — even during the future games — matters a lot. As The Intercept explains, the end of the third verse in “The Star-Spangled Banner” literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans.
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”
However, refusing to stand up during the national anthem is, of course, more than just a protest against the song's lyrics.
The embattled athlete on Sunday spent more than 18 minutes discussing his decision to sit for the national anthem in the locker room. “I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change,” said Kaepernick.
“When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand,” he continued.
Some of his teammates also supported his First Amendment right to express himself. Neither the NFL or the 49ers rebuked Kaepernick, and rightly so. Among his supporters is Kaepernick's coach Chip Kelly who called the player's decision "his right as a citizen." Kelly said, "It's not my right to tell him not to do something."
His former Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, however, expressed resolute disapproval at the athlete's choice to sit, which is considered poor sportsmanship. Harbaugh said, "I don't respect the motivation or action."
The 49ers organization issued a statement which clarified that Kaepernick was not breaking any rules. "The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem," the 49ers organization said in a statement.
Kaepernick, like any other athlete, should be able to enjoy the freedom to express himself during the national anthem as he sees fit, regardless of mixed public opinion.