By: Zach Strauch
Others around him stood, hushed, placed their right hands over their chests and listened as the national anthem rang out across Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
He stared forward and dropped to a knee. Eric Reid, a fourth-year safety who wore the same jersey, followed suit.
It wasn’t the first time Colin Kaepernick had refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
His actions, which have drawn steady streams of criticism and praise, are nothing short of symbolic. But it’s a multifaceted symbolism.
On one hand, Kaepernick’s sitting and kneeling illuminates the bloody, exhausting bout between African-Americans and the complex of hopelessness that lords over much of the race. It’s an onus that is unnecessary and unfair.
On the other hand, and this is the one being scrutinized more liberally, Kaepernick’s choice to sit or kneel functions as spit in the face of a nation united as one. It’s viewed as distasteful, unpatriotic and misguided.
Is Kaepernick misguided? Is he unpatriotic? Is he distasteful?
It depends on which question you try to answer.
Other than listening to small soundbites and brief postgame interviews, no one fully understands why Kaepernick is doing what he’s doing other than the man himself. He claims he’s trying to promote changes in the way the United States handles racial oppression, but he’s failed to articulate the specifics of his wishes. Regardless, the short-term ramifications of his seated fight are evident.
First of all, he’s succeeded in drawing a considerable amount of attention to himself. Not only are major sports media outlets covering his story, but most mainstream news organizations — CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc. — have also delved into the spectacle. His jersey sales have skyrocketed to the top of the sales list on the NFL Store’s website, and Kaepernick stated he would donate all money sourced from the sales “back into the communities.” He will also donate the first $1 million of the $11.9 million salary he’s set to make this season.
He’s getting attention, but what about those he’s trying to assist through his elevated platform as a professional athlete?
They haven’t fared as well, but that could change over time.
The examples are endless when it comes to predominantly African-American communities that sit in shambles, forgotten as they bob above the surface of survival.
The people of Flint, Mich., for example, a city that can’t provide clean drinking water or consistent waste disposal to its residents, have been all but abandoned by every level of government; citizens of Detroit, Mich., a roughed-up industrial town where jobs are nearly non-existent and poverty is plentiful, have been out of touch with those tasked with handling their needs and interests for decades; those in Baltimore, Md., another Rust Belt town where industry and prosperity have been replaced by destitution and hopelessness, lack a voice to communicate their message of discontent.
It’s a compelling illustration of the enormous gaps between ethnic groups in the United States.
So, is the bottom half of Colin Kaepernick the answer?
In a trivial way, yes. Not solely.
He’s ignited a narrative that has been procrastinated for far too long. Flashes of reality in places like Ferguson, Mo., where protests over the death of Michael Brown — an 18-year-old African-American man who was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer — turned into riots, are the only glimpses into the tumultuous existences of ailing minority communities that the entire country gets to see. Media parades roll through town in a heartbeat and leave just as quickly.
A long look, and it will undoubtedly be a difficult one, needs to be given to eyesores like Flint, Detroit and Baltimore. Hope exists where loyalty and heart do, and the fact that even the most downtrodden spots in the country have maintained a pulse is a testament to the potential present in each setting. The only way legitimate change and progress can be achieved in these areas is through identifying the roots of present issues and understanding the grievances of the populaces.
Kaepernick didn’t need to take a first step to stimulate a movement. All he needed to do was sit and kneel.
Now it’s time to stand. There’s a lot of work to be done.