Friday, September 2, 2016


The biggest sports news story right now has to be Colin Kaepernick. It's not a Yankees story or even a baseball story per se. It has become deeply political, though I have no intention of addressing politics here. I am looking at this a sports story that strikes at the heart of the American cultural landscape. You have heard us here at BYB talk about how important it is for kids to have good role models and how sports figures play a major role in that. Kaepernick put a major hot-button issue front and center, and now there is no bigger sports story, no bigger conversation topic than that.

In case you have spent the last week hiking in the woods without power, a cell phone, or a TV, here's the recap. On Friday night's preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick was photographed sitting on a bench while everyone else in the stadium stood for the playing of the National Anthem. When asked why he said:
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. 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."
When I first heard about it, I was annoyed. I am patriotic to the core. Ask my wife who sees me put on an American flag pin and ribbon every 9/11. Ask anyone who has sat next to me at the ballpark during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. I stand to face the flag directly with my hand over my heart. I know every word, unlike those who mumble through the song. I sing regardless of whether or not anyone else is singing, even before the "and the rocket's red glare" part. I taught my kids to do the same. It's a sign of respect. So this act of protest bothered me. That is until I thought about it some more.

I agree with his view on the injustices in America, though I would have expressed it differently. After a lot of thought, I wholeheartedly support both his right to protest and the way he expressed that protest. That may sound like the complete opposite of what I said in the previous paragraph. It's not. It's perfectly in line with patriotic American values. I just had to remind myself what American values really are.

One value which is getting a lot of air-time right now is the right to free speech. His supporters are using that to defend Kaepernick. His detractors, which are many, are exercising their own free speech in some pretty creative ways. My favorites are the videos of 49ers fans burning their Kaepernick jerseys. To those fans, once he is named the starting QB (he is #1 on most major published depth charts), I hope you all plan to burn your season tickets and possibly your playoff tickets too. I mean, I don't know how you burn one and keep the other. I also cannot figure out if you plan to boo him when he throws a touchdown, especially if it's a game-winner.

Here's the thing. You all are within your right to criticize, but you may be missing another subtle nuance of free speech. The power of free speech is not found when you express agreement. It is found in the moment you DISAGREE. Think of the most repressive government in the world, and imagine I dropped you into the middle of it. As long as you say things with which they agree, you are free to say anything that's on your mind and you'll have nothing to worry about. That's not freedom of speech. If, however, you say something with which they disagree, or that they do not allow you to say, your situation goes dark fast. That's where freedom of speech matters. It's when you can express a view with which people disagree. That's what it was designed for. It's been a core American value since 1776.

That said, I have a hard time tolerating the level of disrespect hurled at him because he expressed his viewpoint. We talk about respect for the flag that represents freedom of speech and expression and we vilify someone for exercising those rights. It's contradictory and hypocritical. You might disagree with Colin Kaepernick. No problem. Go ahead and disagree. But don't say that he is being un-American or a traitor. Standing up for what's right and fighting for "liberty and justice for all" is at the heart of being an American. Protest over offenses and oppression is explicitly and repeatedly stated in the Declaration of Independence. Nobody rips Thomas Jefferson for that.

Some accuse him of betraying and disrespecting our military and those who died for our freedoms. Completely untrue. Just listen to what he said. "I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. 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, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. " This, of course, was said after the part about not standing for the National Anthem. Many may have stopped listening by the time he said that. Still, judging by how #VeteransForKaepernick is trending, I'd say the message is getting through.

Okay, final wrap-up on this. The guy is a well-known sports athlete who is using his status as a platform to promote the idea that we should do better as a country. It's his opinion, and he's entitled to it. The same could have been said of Muhammad Ali, who protested the Vietnam War by refusing to report for the draft. Bringing it back to baseball, it could have been said of Jackie Robinson. Near the end of his life, he said "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world." (I Never Had It Made, Jackie Robinson, Alfred Duckett). It could have been said of Carlos Delgado who protested by refusing to take the field during the singing of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch. I read an interesting quote by Gregg Zaun, Delgado's teammate during that time. "He has his opinion and he’s decided to use that as his platform. Whether or not I agree with him, I salute him." I concur. Whether or not I agree with Colin Kaepernick, I salute him.

--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Senior Staff Writer
Follow me on Twitter@KingAgamemnon

Touch by AM

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting on Bleeding Yankee Blue.