Friday, September 2, 2016

Colin Kapernick: Questions and Considerations

I'm not really interesting in clogging the airwaves on a story that has gotten tremendous local—and to my surprise national—media attention. But, I suppose most writers feel that way. We believe we have a thought—or two—to offer. But opinions are like belly buttons: everyone has one. And Colin Kapernick's decision to sit during the national anthem has elicited a firestorm of them. The spectrum of  reactions, responses, questions and stories it has spawned is as diverse as our nation. However, what's been interesting to me about this particular story is not my opinion, but my reaction. When I heard about it via SportsCenter, I thought to myself, I'm surprised no one did what he did at the Olympic Games in Rio.
Do you agree? Have you held that same thought? In 2012 I heard Dr. John Carlos speak at the school where I teach about the decision that he and Tommie Smith made at the 1968 games in Mexico City. Given the social and racial climate in our country, I figured the time was right. Also, I know there is a black national anthem; I have wondered when or if an African-American athlete will request that song to be played in lieu of Francis Scott Key's masterpiece.

So it is with those questions in mind that I aim to address other ideas and questions Colin Kapernick's decision has invited me to consider. Let me be clear, the intention of this posting is not to take a stand on or share my view, but rather to add to the airwaves a humble thought...or two.

First, I think it's important to know that the Thursday night contest against the Packers is not the first time that Kapernick has refused to stand during the national anthem. I am not sure why it became newsworthy now, and not the first, second or third time he made that choice.
Second, the choice he made in the past and on August 26, isn't one that has gone unnoticed by his teammates. Alex Boone, now with the Minnesota Vikings said, 

“It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there,” Boone told USA TODAY Sports. “That flag obviously gives (Kaepernick) the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some (expletive) respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.
With all due respect to Mr. Boone, his words make me cringe. He is not the only person who has shared that sentiment...or euphemism. 

Freedom does not mean that one can do whatever they want. As a society and a culture, we set limits and we evaluate and reevaluate the lines that we draw. When one breaks the rules, dishonors the law or pushes the limits they must be held accountable. And, there is a price to pay when we disagree. It's a cliche for a reason. Freedom isn't free.

To me, Kapernick was well aware of his right—given by the First Amendment—toward freedom of speech. He exercised his right and from what I have gathered, he knew there would be consequences. 
Historically, Kapernick has been terse with the media. Local fans have wondered if he studied at the public speaking school of Marshawn Lynch But in this instance, Kapernick welcomed the microphone and the opportunity to address the reason behind his decision. 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."
Kapernick's decision has prompted Americans to consider how else they express their national pride or disappointment. I had talked to a friend earlier this summer about the time in the late '80s or was it the early '90s when a number of Americans burned flags at Major League baseball games. That gesture ushered in a desire (by some) to add  a constitutional amendment, outlawing the burning of a the Star and Stripes. I started to question: Is the flag as a symbol more or equally sacred as our national anthem? 
CK kneels during the Niner vs Charger game on 9/1/16
As much as I feel frustrated by the shelf life that certain stories hold in the American news cycle and within popular media, I have grown to learn each one invites me to respond—ever new, ever challenging. I've been surprised by many of my reactions in the past. I have learned more about myself than I would if these stories never came to be. 

Kapernick's decision forgo an important pregame ritual has prompted—is it safe to say—the best and worst of us? I've listened to the spectrum of viewpoints and all that I truly have to offer are questions. Having taught ethics for 12 years, I conclude with a poignant thought from an introductory article we use each year.
Questions, you know, are not only the problems or paragraphs or multiple-choices on mid-terms and finals.  Questions can be teachers.  Questions can be like enigmatic but enduring friends; like someone whom you know so well yet still do not know but are thankful for. —Coleman Brown
What has Kapernick's decision prompted you to consider? What has been uncomfortable to talk about?  How could things be different?.......

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1 comment:

  1. What has Colin do to help these problems besides not stand up? He has a huge salary, does he support programs to help blacks, does he talk to young kids of color on how to improve their lives, does he do anything but protest?