What hath Colin wrought?
It has been only one season since former University of Nevada, Reno and San Francisco 49ers football star Colin Kaepernick took a knee in protest during the playing of the national anthem at an NFL football game. Since starting his silent protest, he has been blackballed from the National Football League, but his protest has spread to every NFL team, as well as to other sports leagues.
Kaepernick’s simple protest does not bring forth an articulated manifesto. Instead, by taking a knee, he has brought awareness and discussion of the oppression of minorities by the police and political system. It has become a protest against the American Dream betrayed. For those who disagree, it is a symbol of disrespect for law enforcement, the military, the flag and patriotism itself.
There was no national anthem played during the old leather-helmet days of professional football. In World War II, it began to be played before every game, but there was no requirement for players to be present. After September 11, the league began to require players be on the field and standing while the anthem was played.
The game of football is the most militaristic of American sports. The teams line up in a military style formation, and plays are executed like a real battle. The opposing lines are the infantry, slugging it out in the “trenches.” The classroom Xs and Os resemble battlefield divisions on a military map. Men in motion are like cavalry on flanking maneuvers—linebackers blitz, quarterbacks throw bombs, coaches relay intelligence and plan counterattacks. Serious injuries are common. Brain disease and arthritic conditions in retirement mimic battlefield PTSD and war wounds.
The NFL has piled on the militarism and wrapped itself shamelessly in the flag. It has even been paid by the military to promote patriotism, and the NFL has never been shy about making money, including heaps of tax dollars in sweetheart stadium deals and its tax-friendly nonprofit status.
President Trump is an old-fashioned law-and-order politician, and so are many NFL fans. The Republicans have long had a thing about disrespecting the flag. Kaepernick has rubbed that nerve raw. Conservatives believe that society is red like fang and claw, and without a large military and unquestioned police forming a thin blue line of protection, the blood-red chaos will overwhelm us all. So, Trump tweets marching orders to the NFL to fire the players and threatens the owners’ tax breaks.
Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and to a conference championship game, but no owner will sign him because they believe he is not quite talented enough to be worth the attention that he would bring. When the Tennessee Titans recently signed a 34-year-old journeyman as a backup quarterback, Kaepernick filed a lawsuit alleging collusion by league owners to keep him out of the NFL.
Old-guard coaches like Mike Ditka tell the protesting players to love America or get out. Broadway Joe Namath tells Mike to walk a mile in a black man’s shoes before he says there has been no oppression of blacks for a hundred years. The old American Football League Namath played in was the first integrated pro football league, and far more American than the corporate NFL.
Conservatives question Kaepernick’s credentials because he did not vote in 2016. But Kaepernick has proven there are other ways to bring about a national conversation than voting for politicians who caused the problems in the first place.
You just have to kneel down for what you believe in.