Kaepernick: Right message, wrong platform

By George Gerbo

We asked two members of our team to write columns giving their opinion of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of The Star Spangled Banner. 

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (Photo Credit: Seatacular/Creative Commons)

I don’t like Colin Kaepernick.

That’s not because of anything he’s done lately, though. It’s because I watched in-person from the last row of Candlestick Park as the fleet-footed quarterback ran roughshod over my Green Bay Packers in the 2013 NFC Divisional Round.

From that game, Kaepernick became a star, leading the San Francisco 49ers to back-to-back NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl berth. He’s made more of a name for himself now as QB2 (now QB1 again) on a bad Niners team because of his decision to not stand for the national anthem before games.

I keep hearing that Colin Kaepernick, as a citizen of the United States, is free to exercise his right to protest the national anthem. That’s true. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the 49ers and employee of the National Football League, however, only has that right because Roger Goodell hasn’t taken it away.

The NFL and its commissioner have a long track record of suppressing expression on multiple levels. Remember Marshawn Lynch? The Seattle Seahawks running back was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for choosing not to speak to the media on multiple occasions and even trademarked his now signature phrase, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

How about Cam Hayward, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman who wanted to honor his late father, Craig, who died of cancer at 39, with “Iron Head” on his eye-black? He was also fined and had to stop. So too is the case with Antonio Brown, the flamboyant Steelers wide receiver who likes to honor the different figures that inspire him on his cleats.

The NFL has no restrictions on player actions during the national anthem, and most certainly isn’t going to after what Kaepernick has done. The national anthem is an emotionally charged symbol within this country, and while I have no problem with Kaepernick’s message, I disagree with the manner and method in which he conveyed it.

Even if Kaepernick didn’t intend his act to be an affront to the military, anything perceived – key word – as being disrespectful of the armed services in this country will automatically alienate a large segment of the audience you are trying to convince should listen to you.

Now you are creating an opportunity for those who oppose you to tear you down and block you out without listening. This is especially true in a league like the NFL, which proverbially waves the flag more than any other and devotes the entire month of November to a “Salute to Service” tribute to the military, complete with coaches and players wearing combat-colored regalia.

Kaepernick should follow the example of LeBron James and others in the NBA. The Association is the most socially conscious league in the country and has embraced causes, including when James and others wore “I can’t breathe” warm-up shirts following the death of Eric Garner. It’s also a league that responded to fan and player pressure to force out Donald Sterling as Los Angeles Clippers owner after he made racist statements that were recorded on tape.

The way Kaepernick, and not James or other socially active athletes, has fallen backwards into being the leader of a movement is interesting. After all, Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem in San Francisco’s first two games of the preseason – he sat on the bench. Only after the 49ers’ third preseason game, where he kneeled, did anybody care to notice and ask him what he was doing.

If Kaepernick wants to shed light on racial inequality, the national anthem obviously is a major platform in which to do that. But to use such a large platform requires an awareness of the optics of how his act would play and some fleshing out of the changes he would like to see.

This is especially accentuated by the fact that he had a 20-minute platform at a press conference in the Niners’ locker room a few days after kneeling for the first time and didn’t provide any specifics. Don’t just say “I’m going to need to see serious changes before I stop doing this.” That’s not continuing the conversation.

I want things to change, too. I want our police to be less militarized and be out more in the communities they serve so children don’t grow up in fear of those who are charged to protect and serve. I want lethal force to not be the first option police think to use in certain situations. I want departments across the country to better report statistics on police shootings to the FBI so we can know where there are issues that need to be addressed. What do you want, Colin? His message is just and right, but the platform he chose was not.





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