The Ghost of Colin Kaepernick, Part II

Last Wednesday NFL owners unilaterally instituted a new policy forcing all on-field personnel to stand during the National Anthem. The decision comes two seasons after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting by kneeling during the anthem, and one season after numerous other NFL players followed in solidarity.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter almost immediately, saying the NFL is “doing the right thing,” and that “you have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” This is more or less in line with how many (or most) Conservatives feel on the issue.

The hypocrisy here, of course, is that these are generally the same individuals who identify themselves with being the Party that upholds the Constitution. Whenever 18- and 19 year-old kids on college campuses decide — mistakenly, I believe — to shutdown a speaking event from some right-winger, Conservatives cry out that their free speech is being silenced. Whenever a teenager gets his hands on an automatic weapon and kills a dozen kids at his high school, Conservatives are quick to cry out in defense of the Second Amendment.

Yet when Colin Kaepernick chose to use his platform to protest police brutality against unarmed black people, Conservatives were nowhere to be found in defending his free speech. They instead spun it into a protest of the American flag, or a protest of the National Anthem, when Kaepernick made very clear from the beginning that it was neither of those things.

The NFL’s decision to silence dissent combines race war with class war, though the two usually go hand-in-hand. It just happens that Colin Kaepernick stuck his neck out and literally put his job on the line to put a spotlight on police brutality against unarmed black kids. It’s no coincidence that, with the exception of the Jaguars owner (who himself donated a million dollars to Trump’s presidential campaign), every single NFL owner is an old white man. But that’s just the race part. From the class aspect, by changing the National Anthem policy owners are effectively putting the labor in their place. Sit down, they say, and shut up. Use your First Amendment right to speak out against something we disagree with, and see what happens.

Naturally, many Conservatives see no problem with the NFL’s course of action. It’s a private business, they tell you, and the owners have every right to terminate an employee who does something they don’t like.

That does, however, seem like an entirely convenient route to take, especially if you try putting the shoe on the other foot. What if a player decided to kneel in protest of Roe vs. Wade, or in defense of guns? The NFL would never keep those players from kneeling, let alone implement a brand new policy. Because the same rubes who cheer Kaepernick’s exile, as well as the NFL’s new National Anthem policy, would be in full-throated support of the hypothetical player kneeling for Conservative interests.

Again I think it needs to be repeated, Conservatives are the ones who are so staunchly anti-censorship. They are the ones who claim to care about the Constitution. But when confronted by a set of ideas they disagree with, in defense of a race that (the overwhelming majority of the time) doesn’t look the same as theirs, Conservatives all of a sudden vanish into the comforts of Snowflake Land. They hate censorship when it happens to them, but they are all for it in matters they agree with.

But this is, regrettably, the current state of affairs in America. It’s one side’s straw-man argument against the other. Colin Kaepernick kneels in peaceful protest against police brutality, and Cons say the Left hates all cops. 62 million Americans vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 general election, and Democrats say all Trump voters are racist and sexist. It’s just one thousand percent the wrong way to approach people. There has to be more to life than this.

Since I’m not married to any political party, I’m afforded the ability to stay (relatively) consistent. If I say I am for free speech, that means I’m for Kaepernick kneeling during NFL games the same way I am for Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopoulos speaking for a couple hours at Cal-Berkley. This is not a complicated position to take.

I’m confident that the arena of ideas will ultimately separate the weak and wrong from the strong and righteous. That’s why I am for free speech across the board. Let people like Kaepernick bite the bullet to benefit the generations to come, and let Conservatives stay stuck in their ways, trying to thwart the humanitarian progress that has brought the United States as far as it’s come. The types of people who are against Kaepernick’s protest would have been against the emancipation of slaves, against the woman’s right to vote, against the Civil Rights Movement, and so on and so on. Change can be such a scary thing.

I know, I just did the straw-man thing, too! Of course not all Conservatives are against the emancipation of slaves; of course not all Conservatives are against women having equal rights as men; of course not all Conservatives are anti-Civil Rights.

But there was a time, just a blink ago in American History, when brave individuals and organizations had to generate entire painstaking movements just to make life a sliver better for those oppressed. And the reason it required so much delicate effort, and so much organizing, was because a large swath of the America population thought things were just fine the way they were. I can only assume those people criticized the Progressives of the time as being un-American for wanting to shake things up. (History never repeats itself, right? That’s how the saying goes?)

Protests are supposed to make people uncomfortable. They are supposed to force people to take a side, and make a choice. So if someone chooses blindly to be against Kaepernick’s protest, what they are really saying is they are against progress. They are saying they don’t really care about the Constitution, or free speech. They want what most people want: To believe in the things they already agree with, that already confirm their biases. They don’t want to be challenged with information that disrupts their worldview.

As a true Leftist, and someone who cares deeply about America and being an American, I find Conservatives’ shortsightedness on the Kaepernick protest to be, at best, kind of embarrassing. It just exposes them for their partisanship and hypocrisy. If they ever hold themselves to account, sometime way down the road, they ought to look back in shame.

Because while they never had to make a choice about slavery, women’s suffrage, Martin Luther King or Malcom X — those decisions were already made for them, as basic human progress discarded the bad and backwards ideas — they did have a simple choice with Kaepernick. What they chose was to be against progress, against the First Amendment, and against the idea that some bad apples in police departments take advantage of their power, and that those bad apples should be held accountable for their actions.

I guess I just resent the idea that someone like me, who cares about the value of protesting, is generally stereotyped as being unpatriotic or un-American. Since I am against the bullshit wars the U.S. is currently engaged with, somehow I’m un-American because war is what we do. Since I want poor people to have free healthcare and a living wage, somehow I’m un-American because Capitalism is what we do. Since I care about Kaepernick’s plight, somehow I’m un-American because oppressing minorities is what we do.

I never had the chance to support Colin Kaepernick, like many of his NFL fraternity mates, on the football field. And I will never have the opportunity to carry a conversation with any of the scumbag NFL owners who voted to silence the movement with the new National Anthem rules. But if I could talk to Colin, I’d tell him what he already knows: that history will view him with extreme favor. If I could talk to the NFL owners, I imagine it wouldn’t get far.

Sit down, they would tell me, and shut up.

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