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There Is Much More to Praise Than to Condemn, Mr. Kaepernick

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Colin Kaeprnick is back in the news. Celebrities, athletes, and fans are lining up to scrimmage over whether the unsigned quarterback deserves a spot on an NFL roster.  He’s better than Jay Cutler argues Spike Lee. He’s just okay and not worth the distraction, says Buffalo Bills running back LaSean McCoy.  Michael Vick, who redefined the term “quarterback controversy,” observes Kaepernick “didn’t have the best two years.” 

Of course, Kaepernick’s marginal talent and stats aren’t the big reasons for most people’s interest. Rather, it’s the Rorschach reaction to his stand–to use the right word in an awkward context—on the US National Anthem. When Kaepernick refused to stand for the Anthem, probably the majority were curiously indifferent, others were somewhere between troubled and offended, and others respected Kaeprnick’s expressed intent to protest racial injustice in America.

Whatever Kaepernick’s NFL prospects, the gesture he introduced is  spreading to other players and teams. There is talk of fan boycotts and counter-boycotts supporting Kaeprnick or opposing the widening protest. This correspondent is not among the strongly offended, but shares the view that the players’ bent stance reflects immaturity and a lack of perspective.

Let me support that criticism by digressing to tell a story about a high school civics competition I helped judge as a Colorado lawmaker several years ago. For part of their project, students from an affluent Denver suburb shared a modified, updated version of the Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag—because the Supreme Court doesn’t enforce the First Amendment—of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands—an imperial power that swept the native inhabitants off their land—one nation under God—because the Supreme Court still doesn’t enforce the First Amendment, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all white, male, heterosexual, upper middleclass property owners.”

The reader finished. The students and I eyed each other, as my mind raced for a way to express a different perspective without being a stiff, Republican scold. Lightning came to me.

“I can feel your aspirations and good will. You see injustices around you and you want to fix them. You see wrongs and you want to right them. I hope you’ll be able to do that. But before you decide your society deserves your condemnation, would you consider a couple things?

“Consider that the United States, with its free enterprise, for-profit system, produces more food, more clothing, more shelter, and a higher standard of living for more people than any other system, anywhere, anytime on earth. Consider in our country, poor people suffer the problems of obesity far more than of hunger. Cell phones, air conditioning, and cable TV are ubiquitous.

“Maybe material stuff and prosperity isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re more concerned about social justice. Yes, America has slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination in its history. But consider that America and England led the global fight against slavery. Consider that this nation fought a Civil War, adopted three Constitutional Amendments, passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and established Equal Opportunity Offices in state and federal governments across the land, all to spot and prosecute unlawful discrimination.

“Consider that as a woman, a minority, or a dissenter from the dominant culture, here in the United States, more than anywhere else on earth, you have more chance to pick the life you want, to start a business, or find your crowd…to do what the Indian immigrant Dinesh D’Souza calls ‘writing the script of your own life.’

“I hope you’ll accomplish what you want. Solve those problems; right those wrongs. But please consider that maybe your nation, the society your parents, grandparents, and great great grandparents gave you, deserves not your condemnation but your gratitude. Maybe you can try to make things better here while appreciating what you’ve been given.”

There are a lot of reasons those privileged kids thought their birthplace was mostly a raw deal for the less privileged. But they have the excuse of lack of experience and opportunity to see further and know that it’s probably the best deal on earth.

A college graduate with a multi-million dollar sports contract and unimaginable privilege has less cover. But, feeling more or less warmth toward America isn’t even the point. Kaepernick can believe America has a lot to fix while still respecting the civil norms and observances that unite a community. The Anthem and Pledge speak of America’s aspirations. They don’t endorse its abuses.

There’s no reason Kaepernick couldn’t work for change without spitting on social moments of affirmation. No one would bat an eye if Kaepernick went on the speaking circuit to deliver blistering indictments of social injustice. The problem as I see it is, his chosen path rejected the social part. He was apart. He was more enlightened than the fools and sellouts who stand for the flag. His gesture meant this society deserves his contempt, not his appreciation.

Mr. Kaeprnick earned the disapproval of millions and the arms length wariness of team owners who are in business to make money, not to subsidize divisive distractions. And perhaps most importantly for his own aspirations, he hasn’t shown all that much to general managers or talent scouts.

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