Whatever else he might be, Colin Kaepernick is not un-American. His refusal to stand for the National Anthem was a classic expression of Americanism. Had we colonials never protested, we’d still be singing “God Save The Queen.”
Some folks believe that Kaepernick dishonored the flag, which is a symbol of these United States of America. The flag, however, is not America itself. As abhorrent as it is to many among us, it is legal to burn the American flag. (The Constitutional amendment banning such “desecration” hasn’t yet passed.) Flag-burning remains an allowed form of protest.
Kaepernick did not burn the flag. He merely sat on a bench in public view while the Anthem was played before an NFL game that didn’t count. He says he plans to keep sitting while all others stand as a protest against what he sees as social injustice.
He plays — sometimes, anyway — for the San Francisco 49ers, who are based in Levi’s Stadium, which sits not far from San Jose State, the school that produced Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised black gloves during the National Anthem after finishing first and third, respectively, in the 200 meters in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Levi’s Stadium is in Santa Clara, which is 45 miles from Berkeley, where the concept of student protests flowered on the Cal campus during the 1960s.
The point being: From the hue and cry raised regarding Kaepernick’s sitting, you’d think such a thing had never happened here. It has happened often, and in this very form. Staying seated was a core tactic of the Civil Rights movement. Staying seated on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. — after being told to move to the back — is why we remember Rosa Parks.
A Presidential candidate for a major party harrumphed that Kaepernick should go find a country he liked better. This is akin to suggesting that Rosa Parks should have tried the mass transit in Belgium or Bangladesh. That’s the part about protesters that a lot of red-blooded Americans didn’t get back in the ’60s and don’t get now: Those protesting are red-blooded Americans, too. They don’t dislike this country. They disagree with something about this country. That’s a difference, and not a small one.
It’s often said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Political protest can do that, too. Jim Harbaugh, who coached Kaepernick in San Francisco and works at Michigan now, said he didn’t respect Kaepernick’s “action.” Meanwhile, John Harbaugh quoted Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” When two coaching brothers take different tacks, it’s fair to say that Kaepernick splintered his audience.
And surely that was the point behind his sit-down: It stirred debate, and that’s an American thing, too. We love arguing. And so we are.