Jeff Pearlman

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Colin Kaepernick, the American flag and selective outrage

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 11.07.02 PM

So earlier today someone I know sent me a DM on Facebook that read, simply, “you going to blog about KaeperDICK?”

Well, yes. Yes I am.

KaeperDICK is Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who, before a recent pre-season game, sat during the national anthem. He later explained the stance to the NFL Network, saying, “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, it’s 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.”

This, predictably, did not go over well with many Americans. On social media, Kaepernick was branded everything from a traitor to an ingrate to an un-American piece of [fill in the blank with myriad curses]. And, to be clear, I get it. Patriotism can be a beautiful thing. You pay homage to those who died fighting for our country by standing and facing the flag, hand over heart. You appreciate what you have, you appreciate what the flag symbolizes, you appreciate the freedoms you enjoy.

And yet ... here’s what pisses me off. In the midst of this election cycle, MANY of those slamming Kaepernick appear to be arch-conservatives who vocally back Donald Trump for president. Which means they vocally back a man who mocked John McCain and other POWs for being captured. Which means they vocally back a man who led the birther movement (based entirely on lies) against a sitting United States president. Which means they vocally back a man who said an Indiana-born judge could not rule on a case involving Trump because his parents were originally from Mexico. Which means they vocally back a man who encourage Russia to spy on us.

This sort of thing is driving me absolutely batshit nuts of late. You’re a patriot? You think it’s gross when a man doesn’t stand at attention for the flag? OK—I’m with you. But at least be consistent. At least express equal (or greater) outrage when a leading presidential contender (one who, ahem, dodged the draft with repeated bullshit deferments) says a POW is not a hero because he was captured—”and I like people who weren’t captured.” Yes, Kaepernick may well have been misguided.* But he’s the backup quarterback to a bad starting quarterback on an awful football team. His actions are relatively insignificant. I don’t care if Kaepernick throws an interception … so why should I care if he stands and covers his heart?

Donald Trump, on the other hand, wants to lead our nation.

Let’s keep it all in perspective.

* For the record, I don’t think he was misguided. Hell, I applaud Kaepernick. Freedom of speech is a powerful thing, and a person exercising that freedom to make a point he believes in should (almost always) be applauded. (I say “almost always” because I don’t applaud racism, sexism, etc. But a guy not standing for the flag? Big deal).

  • Paul C

    As Samuel Johnson famously said, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Not that patriotism and love of country are wrong. To the contrary. But faux patriotism that focuses on form and elevates it over substance, is most definitely scurrilous and pernicious. It’s the same nonsensical empty symbolism that obliges politicians reflexively to tell servicemen and women “I thank you for your service,” while doing everything humanly possible to deny those people we “thank” any meaningful help or benefits once they actually have sacrificed themselves for what we claim to admire.

    And why the heck do we even play the National Anthem at sporting contests? There is certainly no law mandating it. Nor, by the way, is there any law mandating standing during its playing. The existing law merely advises people to stand.

    Of course, people do follow convention because of the obloquy they face for defying the convention. The First Amendment merely mandates that GOVERNMENT shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. It doesn’t mean that the consuming public has to reward the exercise of this right. The Dixie Chicks learned this the hard way, when they quite mildly criticized President Dubya, claiming (not unreasonably) that they were personally embarrassed by his illegitimate phony “war.” Ironically, they’d likely have been rewarded had they instead, later, chosen to claim Obama was an illegitimate President.

  • http://fantasysportsprospects.com J. D. Bolick

    Comparing Colin Kaepernick to Donald Trump is pretty bizarre and without any obvious justification, as they don’t appear to have much in common besides my wish for both to go away. Trump is offensive, sure, but he’s playing up jingoism rather than putting down this country, so they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum there. They’re also championing different sides of the racial spectrum, so why are you so aghast that Trump supporters condemn Kaepernick? Of course they would.

    The problems with Colin Kaepernick’s actions are twofold. First, it’s easy and likely correct to view this cynically as a stunt. His career is at a nadir and he has tried everything he can to get out of San Francisco, with this appearing to be the latest and most extreme gambit. Had he taken this stand when he was still a starting quarterback, that would appear more sincere. Secondly, I have no idea what Kaepernick could possibly think sitting during the national anthem would accomplish in terms of the racial divide. It generates attention, sure, but exactly the wrong kind of attention. Talking about how bad this country is, how much you don’t like it, and how you have no intention of respecting it until things change probably doesn’t have much chance of healing or improving this country. Instead, Kaepernick is exacerbating the racial divide and associating black issues with anti-Americanism. To be clear, Colin has every right to do what he’s doing, but he sure looks like an idiot for exercising that right in this particular way.

  • http://rivsdiary.wordpress.com/ Rivelino
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