Last week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a media firestorm when, prior to a game, he refused to stand during the national anthem. Naturally, there were those who saw it as un-patriotic, a slap in the face to the men and women serving in our military and risking their lives on a daily basis and an attack on the very idea of America as a shining city on a hill.
But there’s a counterpoint to that argument. Kaepernick, who is bi-racial, says the reason he refused to stand was to protest black oppression in this country. He became just the latest in a string of professional athletes — including several NBA players such as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James — to speak out on the highly-politicized issues plaguing the black community today.
There’s an argument to be made that Kaepernick’s protest and others like it (flag burning, for instance) are themselves an act of patriotism, a fulfillment of our First Amendment right to free speech. After all, the ability to openly criticize your government, free of consequence from said leaders, is a foundational American value.
That, of course, doesn’t mean entirely free from consequence. For Kaepernick, there was clearly great personal risk involved. He’s quickly become a pariah in the eyes of a large portion of the population, and there’s already been talk that he could potentially be released by the 49ers.
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a staunch and outspoken Civil Rights proponent throughout his career and beyond, believes we should celebrate Kaepernick and that there is great hypocrisy involved in how the conversation has hinged on a debate about free speech rather than his initial protest about black inequality in America.