Colin Kaepernick and the Question of Patriotism

This past weekend, Colin Kaepernick, a Quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose to remain seated during the national anthem as it was played prior to a preseason football game. 

Speaking after the game to reporters, Kaepernick explained his actions:

"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."

Kaepernick is obviously referring to recent shootings of black Americans by police officers.

In the wake of this non-violent protest, the internet literally exploded. 

Pretty much every professional athlete and coach in America is being asked their position on Kaepernick's protest. The loudest and most vehement have come against him. Primarily, the criticisms of the QB have had two major points:

1. This protest is disrespectful of the troops that have fought in the name of America.

2. He is a rich man because of the freedom afforded to us in this nation, so he should be grateful and quiet.

I would like to address why, in my opinion, these criticisms are off base.

First of all, both of these criticisms are a way of avoiding a conversation around the core topic he is addressing - fundamental injustice in America for people of color.

If you don't understand this core issue, I respectfully submit you should refrain from engaging in this conversation until you do. I STRONGLY recommend a book called "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander as a great starting point. Because if you are unwilling to hear what Kaepernick is saying, then anything you say will not be part of a conversation - rather it will simply be part of a continued shouting match where no one learns anything and nothing changes.

Now, on the specific criticisms:

First, that this protest is disrespectful of sacrifices made by our armed forces. Kaepernick was specifically asked about this and he responded by saying, "I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country."

Therefore, the only way this criticism can be leveled against him is if you refuse to listen to him. At which point, I would suggest your response becomes invalid. Screaming our opinions at other people without hearing them is never going to solve a thing in our world. I know that 24 hour news has trained us to behave like this, but by God we must reject it.

I personally have no doubt that the vast majority of men and women of America's military (and the military of other nations, for that matter) undertake their roles with courage and dedication, and take pride in providing the US with the opportunity to self govern. The fact that such opportunities come at the cost of war makes me very sad. The fact that the after effects of war lead to high numbers of depressed, injured and traumatized veterans also makes me sad.

I can have respect for the members of the military while have grave concerns about how their respective governments utilize their power. If these men and women, particularly in the American military, made sacrifices so that America could be a free society, why on earth would it be disrespectful to them to exercise this freedom for the purposes of combatting injustice within our society?

Should we accept something less than healthy to maintain some illusion (or delusion) of perfection? In my eyes, that would be a grave insult to the sacrifices of American servicemen and women.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If our military is working for justice (as our civilian leadership assures us it is by way of just-war theory), allowing injustice to pervade our own nation is spitting in the face of their sacrifice.

Now, to be fair, I'm playing a bit of counterpoint here, where I don't fully subscribe to the argument, but I'm rather showing that the argument being leveled at Kaepernick is logically unsound.

My viewpoint is that humanity is incapable of effecting total justice in our world and that we are to look toward God for ultimate justice. That's not to say we shouldn't work towards it, but the primary tool Jesus gives us to work toward injustice is sacrifice, not violence.

But I digress.

The second point, that Kaepernick is rich and should simply be quiet and seek to be a better Quarterback is similarly outrageous.

If you're not familiar with the short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, you may want to at least check out the synopsis.

If the parts of our society who are not dealing with institutional oppression choose to ignore suffering for their own personal comfort and benefit, then our society does not deserve to be esteemed in an capacity.

Learning that others suffer for our comfort is a difficult thing. It is uncomfortable and painful. It means we will have to make a choice whether to continue to seek our own comfort, or to shed at least some of that comfort in order to uplift others. (Have you ordered The New Jim Crow yet? Please do so now.)

Kaepernick has been given an opportunity to make a statement that many will hear, in a way that oppressed people in our nation have not been heard for centuries. He choose to use that opportunity. Money should NEVER be an excuse for a person to ignore their conscious or the suffering of others.

Kaepernick may not be in the NFL much longer. His talents as a professional have not lived up to the initial meteoric rise from several years ago. Yet, at the risk of losing far more money than I will probably ever see in my entire life through contracts and endorsements, he has taken a stand by sitting down.

In the times before social media, it was possible to never be aware of the social injustice in our nation. To be, in some ways, trapped by the same mechanisms causing the oppression of others; but in the age of Facebook and twitter and blogs and cell phone cameras, we are all accountable.

We have been shown the evidence, and if we choose to ignore it, and seek our own personal utopia at the expense of the suffering of others, whatever else we are, we are not following in the example of a Messiah who refused to ignore injustice.

In some ways, I view what Kaepernick did and said as inelegant, but the issues he is drawing attention to are absolutely and critically important and I am grateful he had the courage to accept the scorn he had to know would result from his actions.

Numerous people are telling him to leave this country which I find hilariously, tragically ironic since this country was founded by people who were told to get out - and wanted everyone to know that they are welcome here.

It's easy to drape oneself in the flag in condemning Colin Kaepernick, it is also an act of utter self deception.

I get sad sometimes when I think that it just should be this hard to get Christians to care about other people more than politics or patriotism or convenience, but then I remember how imperfect and flawed I am. I need boatloads of grace, and Jesus says the way to get it is to give it away.

For my brothers and sisters in Christ who choose not to ignore these issues, but seek to sacrifice (and there are MANY of you - don't let my negative anthropology in the last paragraph make you think I don't see you :) - let me encourage you with Galatians 6:9:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.