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September 9, 2016

There’s nothing to get football season started quite like a good controversy, and the NFL is certainly mired in one. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a good non-controversy to start this year’s column with. Honestly, I was wondering when the moral hand-wringing would start this year. It feels like we were just dealing with the topic of athletic activism not that long ago. Just not with a case quite this divisive, it seems.

For those of us who don’t know, I am referring to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made the decision to become a cultural lightning rod when he refused to stand during the national anthem before a generally meaningless preseason game. When asked, Kaepernick doubled down, saying his refusal to stand was the result of his unwillingness to celebrate a nation that, almost 250 years after its declaration that all men are created equal, till manages to struggle with equality. Shockingly enough, when a Black athlete feels like they are being asked to love a country that does not love them back, the response may not be pleasant.

However, regardless of how any individual feels about Kaepernick, there is a troubling refrain that he is somehow un-American for daring to question the nation that “gave” him freedom. The notion that his stance is somehow anti-American, or anti-military ignores the context of Kaepernick’s protest, and his actual words, considering he has outright said he has nothing but respect for the military. His decision to not stand for the national anthem has nothing to do with the military, and certainly isn’t born from a hatred of America. That is an absurd notion. If anything, his stance is as American as they come.

Stay with me, here. Kaepernick’s protest is, essentially, this: America has not lived up to its promise as a nation. Its continued oppression of people of color and queer folks is a definite reminder of that, and it’s a reminder that has cost people of color their lives. It is a reminder that has cost the police their lives, at times. Kaepernick, by refusing to stand for the anthem, is essentially declaring that his concern is that America improves, and he will accept nothing less than exceptionalism from this country. If America is to be the shining city on the hill that politicians and activists describe it as, it needs to be held accountable for all the times we have gotten it wrong as a nation.

Essentially, I don’t blame Kaepernick. Nor do I blame anyone who follows his lead, the way Kaepernick followed Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s lead. Their protests are necessary. This kind of disruption is how we start to look inwards. Hopefully, we can start a legitimate conversation about Kaepernick and being Black in America. But to do that, you would have to sit down with him.

Anthony Adams
Sports Columnist

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