Assessing the Effectiveness of Colin Kaepernick's Anthem Protests
You have likely already heard about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s recent national anthem protests. It began during preseason when Kaepernick was noticed sitting on the 49ers bench while everyone else in the stadium stood for the singing of the anthem before San Francisco’s third exhibition game. When asked about it afterwards, he said this: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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." He later said that he would continue to sit during the anthem until significant changes were made.
Whether you feel that Kaepernick’s actions are praiseworthy or disrespectful, or both, he got people talking. So, one month into a potentially season-long protest, how effective has Kaepernick’s attempt to raise awareness been?
For starters, he is still holding true to his word. He kneeled, once again, during the singing of the anthem before San Francisco’s most recent game against the Carolina Panthers. He has also been joined by teammate Eric Reid as well as other prominent players like Denver Broncos’ linebacker Brandon Marshall and Miami Dolphins’ running back Arian Foster in protesting the Star-Spangled Banner. Other players on teams such as the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams have also taken stances similar to Kaepernick’s by raising their fists in a nod to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ symbolic gesture during the 1968 Summer Olympics. Moreover, rather than have certain individuals stand out for their actions, two teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks, organized team-wide displays of unity in what was certainly an alternative, and perhaps more appropriate, response to Kaepernick’s protest. Nonetheless, his actions have clearly caught the attention of nearly all players and teams in the NFL; and he has more than a few supporters.
Kaepernick’s actions have also influenced other sports stars. US Women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe opted to kneel during the national anthem for the second time in recent weeks before Team USA’s latest exhibition game. She has previously stated that her decision to kneel is a “nod to Colin Kaepernick.”
In baseball, Baltimore Orioles All-Star Adam Jones made headlines last week by commenting on the lack of similar national anthem protests in MLB. His belief is that African-American ballplayers are discouraged from speaking out because baseball has fewer black players and, thus, are more expendable, at least in Jones’ view. He then went on to say that baseball “is a white man’s sport.”
Lastly, when asked about whether the national anthem protests would carry over to the NBA this season, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said, “Oh, no question, I truly believe it will. Because at the end of the day it’s a sport, and people are [going to] be looking at some of the guys in the NBA to see what they’re going to do as well.” In short, support for Kaepernick extends outside the NFL.
Despite the criticism that many of these athletes have received and as uncomfortable as it is to hear players such as Jones comment on diversity issues in their respective sports, there has been a lot of support for these athletes who have taken a stand from both their organizations and the general public, especially in Kaepernick’s case. For instance, when the San Francisco QB said he would donate $1 million to organizations that help alleviate social injustice, the 49ers matched his donation. As for Rapinoe, the Seattle Reign, her professional team, stood by her decision to kneel, citing how many were inspired by the courage she had to stand up for her beliefs.
Moving back to Kaepernick, he is surprisingly leading the NFL in jersey sales since he started his protest. For those who are unaware, Kaepernick is currently the backup quarterback on the 49ers. It is practically unheard of for someone who is not even on the starting line to then sell more jerseys than the biggest stars in football. Taken together with the fact that his social media following over the past few weeks has increased by a staggering 36,000%, it is clear that many people, professional organizations included, are not only aware of what Kaepernick is doing, but are also supportive of him.
There are certainly many questions to arise out of all this. For example, how long will this movement last? When does this sudden rise in attention to these protests decline? And at what point will enough change be made for Kaepernick and other athletes to finally stand and salute the flag?
I suppose only time will tell. Yet, for now, in spite of the disapproval from world-famous supermodels, has-been country singers, and many others, Kaepernick is furthering a discussion that has an end goal I would expect we would all want to see occur: The end to escalated conflict between police and American citizens as well as a more equal and just United States.
For that reason, even if you are not crazy about the particular route Kaepernick has taken, he should receive less condemnation and more acceptance.