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49ers' Colin Kaepernick: I'm not standing for the anthem of a country that oppresses blacks
I don't think he deserves the attention that a column about him brings, but Colin Kaepernick's stunt this past weekend of refusing to stand for the national anthem in a preseason game did generate a couple of thoughts I wanted to share. One concerns the increasingly commonplace (and thus, increasingly meaningless) use of gestures like this by athletes to showboat about issues they really don't understand. The other concerns the growing inclination of normal Americans to proceed into histrionics about people not standing, not saluting, not putting their hands on their hearts, whatever.
First, here's what happened:
"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 NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "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."
The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick's decision: "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 NFL also released a statement, obtained by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport: "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem."
By taking a stand for civil rights, Kaepernick, 28, joins other athletes, like the NBA's Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and several WNBA players in using their platform and status to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the U.S.
Let's first tackle the question of the widespread shaming that happens when someone doesn't approach one of these moments as proscribed - or when people think they didn't. It goes way beyond an example like Kaepernick's, which he acknowledges was intentional and had a purpose to it. It's the photos that circulate on social media of four people standing and one of the four inexplicitly having hands at sides while the others have their hands on their hearts.
Look! So and so has complete disrespect for the flag!
Or some guy who doesn't take his hat off and gets caught on film. Or people talking to each other instead of gazing upward with patriotism in their eyes at the thought of the rockets' red glare.
Who. Freaking. Cares?
If expressions of patriotism are compulsory on penalty of mass societal shaming, then they're completely meaningless. I stand for the national anthem, as do most people I see around me at games. But I have no interest in getting on the case of the occasional person who doesn't. I don't know their reason. Maybe they have bad knees. Maybe they're tired. Maybe they hate America. I really don't care. Stand if you choose. Sit if you are so inclined.
And I'll tell you this too: Sometimes I make wisecracks during the national anthem! Yes. It's true. Sometimes I sing the lyrics like Leslie Neilsen in Naked Gun to make my wife laugh. I suppose if I was a prominent public figure and this was caught on video and spread over social media, I would be widely denounced for not displaying the proper comportment at such a sacred moment. To which I would have to say, bite it. I really don't care.
People need to tend to their own affairs and not appoint themselves the social media patriotism police.
Now, as to Colin Kaepernick's little cause: He can do what he wants and I really don't care, but if everyone who has a problem with this country refused to stand for the national anthem in protest, we'd have to stop playing it, because no one would stand. In addition to the fact that it doesn't sound like Kaepernick has the slightest idea what he's talking about, his protest is juvenile and petulant: Until everything is the way I think it should be, I will show no respect.
Whatever, bro. If I was a 49ers fan, I'd be much more concerned about Kaepernick's crappy performance on the field the last couple of years than with whatever grandstanding nonsense he's doing before the game. I am not one of those who says to athletes, "Just shut up and play the game." They have the same right as me to say what they want to say. But I'd respect them more if they would just say it rather than try to provoke meaningless controversies. And the more they do it, the less meaningful it becomes. Pretty soon everyone's got some pet complaint that becomes the rationale for refusing to do this or that.
These staged moments of patriotic expression are not as important as we make them out to be, and people don't deserve as much attention as they get for either screwing them up or intentionally refusing to take part. The nation's fiscal house is collapsing, but we're talking about this crap.