The Kaepernick Protest of ’16

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William James Downing

Another day, another paragraph on the Kaepernick Protest.

The Pro’s protest was first perceived at being practiced pre-season against the Packers, but has been perpetuated since by other professional athletes, promoted by military veterans, passed-off by the President and angrily panned by other prominent people due to, what is seen as, an inherent lack of respect to the seemingly most respected of individuals and organisations in US culture – the military.

Where to start with this?

There is a history of protest by American athletes over civil rights and discrimination – Tommie Smith & John Carlos who were Olympians in ’68; Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens and Tavon Austin of the St Louis Rams in December 2014; LeBron James and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Jarrett Jack, Alan Anderson, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett of the Brooklyn Nets and Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls all also in December 2014.

Of note, the case of Muhammad Ali being imprisoned for refusing to be inducted into the US Army in ’67 is often cited as an act of protest because protest can often be the same as civil disobedience. In Ali’s case it was to do with religious beliefs as opposed to protest, but Ali’s action (or lack thereof) bears a similarity to Kaepernick’s in the way that it incurred the wrath of American’s in its slight of the military and (at that pre-Watergate point in US history) the American government. Additionally, although doing well in the pre-season, Kaepernick’s career with the ’49rs could be ending soon due to poor performance and this muddies the waters – Ali’s action meant he was stripped of his belt and banned from boxing for three years, but he had a successful career afterwards.

26th August, a pre-season game against the Packers, was when people first started noticing and questioning Kaepernick about his actions. Kaepernick sat down during the anthem, whereas his team mates, surrounding staff and spectators mostly stood. He had ‘sat-out’ the anthem for two previous pre-season games, but had not been in uniform so evidently this was seen as less important by the media, sports fans and casual bystanders of news-stands and televisions. Asked about his action after the game, in an exclusive interview with NFL media, he revealed that he had performed this protest because “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. 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.”

So far, so peaceful protest…

What followed was a cavalcade of pro and anti Kaepernick rhetoric, much of it angry, from everybody who was asked and from plenty of people who were not. The Seahawks have indicated that they will be locking arms in solidarity with Kaepernick’s cause, Dolphins, Vikings, Raiders, Chargers, Broncos, Patriots… players and groups of players from many NFL teams have spoken in agreement. Some have even echoed the protest (players such as Jeremy Lane, Brandon Marshall and Eric Reid) and have either sat during the US national anthem or taken a knee – an evolution to the protest after Kaepernick spoke with US green beret and long-snapper Nate Boyer as to how to continue the protest without appearing to intentionally disrespect the sacrifice of the military. As did female soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who explained her empathy as a gay American – insinuating that she feels that civil rights for all Americans have not yet been met.

However many have spoken in disagreement – leading present and alumni players in the sport such as Richard Sherman, Victor Cruz, Jerry Rice and Drew Brees have indicated that they may agree with his stance but dispute that Kaepernick has carried out his protest in the correct way in the correct forum. As has Shaquille O’Neill.

Even Rodney Harrison weighed in saying that Kaepernick has no idea because he is not black: Which reminds me of that time I refused to comment when Pacman Jones, Larry Johnson, Junior Gallette, Daryl Washington, Brandon Underwoood, Ahmad Brooks, Ray MacDonald, Ray Rice, Bryan Thomas, Rocky Bernard, Eric Walden, James Harrison, Phillip Merling and Quinn Ojinaka hit their wives and girlfriends. I refused to weigh in because I didn’t grow up a woman therefore I have no idea or relevance in that discussion. Additionally, Kaepernick is black. [NB: On the 1st Sept, Roger Goodell celebrated his first decade as commissioner. The names above are 14 of 117 players that have been arrested domestic violence or assault since his tenure started]

Oh yes, Roger Goodell. He is the head honcho of the trade-association that is called the NFL and, as such, would have a constructive opinion of Kaepernick’s protest wouldn’t he? Otherwise you would think that him being the boss would be farcical, much like someone running for the presidency of the United States of America who believes that all Americans are equal but some are more equal. Here is what Goodell said; “I support our players when they want to see change in society, and we don’t live in a perfect society. We live in an imperfect society. On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that. I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals.

Even President Barack Obama has volunteered his thoughts, reminding us that it is Kaepernick’s right as an American to protest and that, as difficult as it is for people in hear (especially those in uniform), it is opened up a discussion especially amongst young people.

I agree with President Obama and would also point out that Kaepernick’s peaceful protest seems to have received longer media coverage than the violent protest in Baton Rouge in July by Gavin Long, where he murdered three and maimed three police officers. This longer media coverage has extended the debate over US citizen rights and apparent disparities in law enforcement even further than before and it is possible that Kaepernick’s protest and its repercussions will be a major theme of the forthcoming NFL season.

Many people who are in disagreement with Kaepernick see it as disrespectful to the flag, the US military, US law-enforcement and freedom itself and that he is (the worst insult of all time) un-American.

To the people who say that he is disrespecting the flag: Kaepernick is protesting because of exactly what the flag represents to disenfranchised Americans at the moment – inequality. When Bill Hicks was heckled by someone saying “My father fought for that flag” Bill Hicks said, “So what? I bought mine in Walmart for $5 – its just a flag.” People who say that he is disrespecting freedom might want to start by looking in a children’s dictionary of what freedom is and then reading the news about non-whites, non-straights, non-ablebodied persons, and/or those with mental health issues. To the people who say he is disrespecting the military, he never intentionally did so and has since amended his protest accordingly – with support from the Veterans Association.

To those who say his actions are un-American, and this one really angers me, would you say that to the people who opposed; the war in Vietnam, the wars by the US in the Persian gulf, the North Dakota oil pipeline? Was Susan B Anthony un-American? Martin Luther King? San Francisco’s Stonewallers? The Knights of Labour? The Occupy Movement? Anti-globalisation protesters?  Sarah (writer shudders) Palin in her Tea Party role? How about those who protested in Boston in 1773?

I think you will find that not just the freedom to protest but also the act of protesting itself is one of the constants of American History that has, whether I agree with the protested issue or not, progressed the US and its people.

However presidential nominee Donald Trump had this obnoxious rhetoric to spew out of his mouth-hole, ooze out his skin/ reptilian outer-layer and spoon-feed to a significant number of his supporters, [consider looking for another country “that works better for him”. Basically saying that ‘if you don’t like it, get out!’. Trump basically saying that he [Trump] will not be making any changes to the country if he was made president. I am not saying that ‘If you don’t like it, get out’ is the most clichéd racist epithet in history, but it does seem to crop up as chapter headings, in parentheses at the end of every sentence and in every footnote, oh, and as the title itself of the great book concerning Racism and other forms of bigotry for Dummies.

Kaepernick should not be commenting on this because he is a rich athlete. Wrong wrong wrong! NFL players, black NFL players are subjected to racial profiling too. Some stories include but are not limited to; Seahawk’s Safety Kam Chancellor trying to buy a gym and having the police called on him, Seahawk’s Richard Sherman being racially abused after the NFC championship game, Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha having his leg broken, etc… Serena Williams and Tiger Woods being repeatedly being referred to negatively as animals when they started consistently winning.

The crucial factor for me, has Kaepernick done the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, will be decided not in the next few weeks or months, but in the next few years and decades. If he follows up his act of protest with constructive action such as working with US leaders (community leaders, police chiefs, policy makers, Presidents, youth leaders, news programme producers, etc…). Kaepernick is protesting US policy and, significantly but not exclusively, the policy and practices of US law-enforcement. One of the main reasons for this turning into such a furore is that this protest and FU against the police is not coming straight from the underground, but from mouth (and ass and knee) of an individual who is high-profile and fairly influential.

For information on police shootings in the US, please check out the link below. Curated by the Guardian newspaper, as such a record did not previously exist:

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One thought on “The Kaepernick Protest of ’16

  • September 22, 2016 at 11:01 am

    For most people who say that Kaepernick is not patriotic (a cardinal sin, apparently), I reiterate one thing and introduce another.
    1) Protest is patriotic
    2) Since 2009, the US Military has paid the NFL for displays of patriotism (whether it being on the sideline instead of the locker-room during the national anthem or wearing camo-uniforms, etc…) does this not taint the patriotism of the league with jingoism?


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The Kaepernick Protest of…

by William James Downing time to read: 7 min