In a move reminiscent of the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in last night’s pre-season game with the Green Bay Packers as a show of protest against the way black people and people of color are being treated in America.
In 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a black gloved fist during the playing of the national anthem, there was a struggle in America for civil rights. It seems that the new era of recognition of the treatment of black people by police is upon us. The Black Lives matter movement has gained recognition and national prominence following several shootings of unarmed black citizens by police. Now an athlete is standing up for this principle. Colin Kaepernick is taking a stand by sitting down during the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “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.”
Kaepernick has refused to stand in at least one other pre-season game. There are 16 regular season games and one more pre-season game on the 49er’s schedule. This is a controversy that could last for the rest of the year. Kaepernick is sure to receive backlash for his stance.
Other players who have not honored the anthem in the past have been met with boos and jeers from fans. Most notably, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly Chris Jackson before his conversion to Islam, refused to recognize the flag or stand for the anthem before NBA games. He cited similar reasons as Kaepernick and said that it conflicted with his religious beliefs. Andul-Rauf was briefly suspended by the NBA for refusing to stand for the anthem. A compromise was eventually worked out and he stood with his teammates and coaches for future playings of the anthem.
The anthem is largely seen as a way to honor the country and honor the people who fought and died in wars to protect the freedoms we enjoy here in America. Of course, one of those freedoms is the right to not honor the flag and to not stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick is exercising that freedom as a protest. The 49ers, who were not made aware of Kaepernick’s protest beforehand have issued a statement that neither condemns or supports Kaepernick:
“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Kaepernick said that he did not discuss the protest with the team before but that he had a lengthy discussion with family and friends in the weeks leading up to the season.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Kaepernick, who is of mixed race and was adopted and raised by white parents, is fighting for his starting job after being injured last season. He demanded a trade form the 49ers after relations with management became sour. The trade never came and now Kaepernick is competing with Blaine Gabbert for the 49ers starting role at quarterback. He spent the offseason rehabbing from surgeries to his non throwing shoulder and his hand and knee. Making his pre-season debut with the 49ers on Friday night, Kaepernick played in the second quarter and looked rusty completing two of six passes for 14 yards.
As the NFL season starts in the coming weeks, this controversy will grow when more people witness the protest. Kaepernick may be pressured by his team and the league into standing during the anthem. THZ will continue to follow the story as it develops.