Over the last week we have seen America in action in the face of Hurricane Harvey. Not any of those reaching out to help or to be helped in Texas or Louisiana cared about the gender, color of skin, or politics of the person that touched their lives. In times of trouble, Americans come together to help those in need. It’s that tribute to the better nature of our citizens that we rise to honor every time we join together to sing our National Anthem.
Of course, our country can always be improved, but our Anthem and Pledge speak of America’s aspirations as a people. It doesn’t in any way condone or endorse its abuses-past or present. At the same time, such shared patriotism helps us acknowledge how far we have come.
Columnist Shawn Mitchell summarized it well: “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.”
Once again, Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the national anthem and his failure to be picked up by any NFL team is in the news. Other players have kneeled or raised their fists in protest. There is talk of fan boycotts and counter-boycotts supporting Kaeprnick or opposing the growing protest.
There is no question that football players and citizens have the right not to stand for our National Anthem. But tolerance does not require approval. With some fans who experience such demonstrations as unpatriotic and ungrateful, such actions produce consequences that could impact teamwork and attendance.
When NFL football players make millions of dollars playing a game in a league where minorities are over-represented in comparison to the national population, it is hard to understand how players can refuse to honor a country that allowed so many to live their dream.
Owners are afraid signing Kaepernick would be a distraction and a financial risk. According to 2016 statistics, seventy percent of the men on NFL rosters are African-American despite representing only 12.3 percent of the United States' population. While the majority of NFL players are black, the NFL fan base is 83 percent white and 64 percent male.
One unidentified NFL executive quoted on ESPN confessed, “It is really not about his ability. It’s about the risk of what happens to the team concept when you sign a guy — a quarterback — who has put his personal agenda ahead of what we are all charged to do, which is put the team first. As a team builder, I cannot risk that happening again, especially for a borderline starter who needs the entire offense catered to his style.”
My 49er Colin Kaepernick jersey is hanging in my closet. I’m sad about his being out of football, but I do not support his stand. Like many others, I will be tempted to turn off any game where players make such a display of disrespect for our country—a country that has led the way to fight racism.
In light of the violence and racism that has surfaced in recent months from the small but disturbing KKK and the Antifa hooligans, I think it is time for a different kind of demonstration at our NFL football stadiums as we start a new season.
Before each game, let players from both teams meet in the center of the field to kneel in prayer for our country—a prayer to end racism and violence. Then let them stand proudly together to invite the fans to join with them in singing the National Anthem.
No matter what the team or race, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., let them join in a positive, peaceful display in support of unity and continued progress in race relations. May we all celebrate with gratitude the progress made while challenging all to work to produce the progress yet to come. If he could join in that kind of demonstration, there may yet be a place for Colin Kaepernick in the NFL.