Op-Ed: Colin Kaepernick, the national anthem and protests


Photo: AP News

Matthew Breault, Assistant Sports Editor

When NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem at a preseason NFL game on Sept. 1, 2016, it shocked the world. It left many sports fans angry, including myself, because I was unaware of the reasoning behind it. 

Over the past four years since Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, I have educated myself on why he did such a thing and I am here to tell you there is nothing wrong with this form of peaceful protest.

Many people don’t know or care to listen when someone tries to explain why Kaepernick first took a knee. The people who say “he’s disrespecting the troops,” or “he’s un-American” are the ones who are not listening. Even President Donald J. Trump said “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” when speaking in Huntsville, Ala. on Sept. 22, 2017.

To understand why Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, you must first listen. 

The first three weeks of the NFL preseason in 2016, Kaepernick didn’t stand or kneel, he actually sat down. His peaceful protest didn’t receive media attention until the third week of the preseason, and that is when he addressed his protest to the media for the very first time.

“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,” Kaepernick said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This sparked a ton of controversy. And to this day over four years later, it still does.

The next week Kaepernick decided to kneel instead of sit, and some believe he made that decision on his own, but he did not. Kaepernick reached out to an individual named Nate Boyer for help and guidance.

Boyer is a former NFL long snapper who also happened to be a United States Army Green Beret. You have every right to your opinion when you say “Kaepernick disrespected the veterans,” but it’s important to know that a veteran was the one who told him to kneel.

“I suggested him taking a knee instead of sitting even though I wanted him to stand, and he wanted to sit,” Boyer said in an interview with NPR journalist Michel Martin. “You kneel to propose to your wife, and you take a knee to pray. Soldiers often take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave to pay respects. So I thought, if anything, besides standing, that was the most respectful.”

Of course that is just Boyer’s opinion, but hearing an opinion from a veteran and the man who suggested this form of peaceful protest really helped me open my eyes and change my stance on this issue.

Kneeling during the national anthem is a legal form of peaceful protest, which is a First Amendment right. Kneeling is looked at by many as signs of respect, deference, compliance and sometimes mourning, that is until ‘White America’ sees an NFL player do it during the national anthem.

So why did Kaepernick kneel? Was it to intentionally disrespect the troops that fought for his right to stand or kneel? No. Was it because he hates the military and police? Nope. Was it because he was too lazy to stand? Not quite.

The reason Kapernick first knelt was to bring attention to social injustice in America, as well as police brutality. When you’re a famous NFL Quarterback, you have the ability to generate attention to much bigger issues. And that is exactly what Kaepernick did. 

Between 2012 and 2016 Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and Trayvon Martin were just four of the many individuals who were shot and killed by either police or someone who claimed they looked “suspicious.” These individuals are some of most notable when discussing this topic before Kaepernick first knelt. Now, you see recent protests for individuals like George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor and many others.

If I could name each individual the Black Lives Matter movement wants you to remember and mourn, you might never see the end of this article. That’s the sad reality of the world we live in today.

Social injustice has and always will be the bigger issue.

It wasn’t about disrespecting the troops. It wasn’t about degrading the lives of the people who have served this country. Our veterans fought for everyone in the country to have equal rights, not just some. They fought for all of our freedoms and one of those freedoms is the right to peacefully protest. 

The late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I’m not encouraging you to change your opinion on kneeling, because you have every right to your opinion. I am encouraging you to open your eyes and take a deeper look into the issues of social injustice and police brutality.

To Kaepernick and the Know Your Rights Camp, although I may never get the chance to meet you, I want to speak on behalf of many when I say this:

I will kneel alongside you and say their names until they get the justice they deserve.

Photo: Matthew Breault on Instagram