Ron Jaworski once believed Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. It is now far more likely he’ll be one of the most controversial.
Kaepernick intends to remain seated during future national anthem renditions. His commitment to enacting change appears steadfast. Some of his teammates have called the decision “cancerous.” Backlash has been ample and fervent. Supporters have mobilized with an impassioned defense.
Two reasonable thoughts float to the top of choppy waters as the storm rages.
- Kaepernick is well within his rights to not stand up for the national anthem
- Those who find such behavior abhorrent are well within theirs to share that opinion.
Athlete-driven activism is not new. The sports world spent a week earlier this year feting Muhammad Ali. Many of the tributes suffered from revisionist history. Ali was not universally loved in his own time. His stands caused him to be reviled. After his passing, derision miraculously morphed into admiration, selfishness to courage.
We are, however, living in unprecedented era of athlete activism. Social media has provided a far-reaching microphone. Around-the-clock coverage fuels the sports-content machine. Perhaps most importantly, there is a market for it. As long the athlete stays within the designated lines, they are usually viewed as a conscientious citizen interested in the world beyond their nose.
Once he or she oversteps those lines, the floodgates open and out comes the vitriol.
This is not to minimize the efforts of others. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James speaking at the ESPYs was powerful but their language was guarded. In no way am I suggesting their motivations aren’t noble and pure. It’s simply that this form of speaking out engenders a more positive, reputation-enhancing reaction.
The public is more comfortable admitting that problems exist and answers should be sought. The public is more comfortable when one group is not painted as oppressor and the other the oppressed. The drive for unity and togetherness is easy to get behind or give lip service. The argument could be made for honey over vinegar being a more effective recruiting tool.
What Kaepernick is doing stands in stark contrast. He has a specific agenda, an identified oppressor that happens to use the American flag as a symbol. Assessing the merits of Kaepernick’s stands is not something I’m particularly interested in exploring, primarily because the bar for changing a person’s existing views on racial issues is absurdly high.
But one cannot say he’s taking half-measures in addressing his chosen cause. The NFL shield is red, white and blue, its image steeped in patriotism and draped in the flag, even notably to the point of being involved in “pay for patriotism” acts that drew outside scrutiny from politicians. Kaepernick’s decision to use the national anthem — considered sacrosanct by a vast majority of Americans — maximizes visibility and ensures reaction.
The reason why Kaepernick’s protest is leading national news programs is that, even in 2016, it stands out above the crowded voices speaking out in support of Cause A or Cause B. His decision will alienate millions and potentially affect his NFL future.
Whether you believe he’s misguided or not, there’s no debate that he’s risking a ton. He’s not soft peddling anything with one eye on his image. Even in today’s changing landscape, he’s an outlier.
Will others soon follow in his footprints, which dig deeper into the sand than the other tracks?