Kaepernick’s Protest: A True Form of Patriotism

Nicholas Sommer ‘17, Contributor

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Much has been said the last few weeks after Colin Kepernick – the backup quarterback for the San Fransisco 49ers – decided to remain seated rather than stand for the national anthem during the second-to-last preseason game of the summer. In a locker room interview on August 29th, reporters drilled Kaepernick about why he chose not to stand for the anthem. His response was simple.

“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”

In the three games since September 1st, Kaepernick has knelt during the national anthem, marking a change from his decision to remain seated during first three preseason games. Nevertheless, Kaepernick’s protest has ignited a firestorm of criticism including claims that his actions are unpatriotic and disrespectful of the military and the American flag. His actions have been characterized as a selfish publicity stunt, and some critics have even alleged that because Kaepernick is half white he has no reason to be protesting in the first place.

I will be the first to admit, the arguments I just listed above are very much extreme viewpoints they do not represent the majority of Kaepernick critics. While people agree that Kaepernick has the right to freedom of expression, many disagree with his decision to use the national anthem and professional sports as the venue for his protest.

In the hope of contributing to this important conversation, I would like to share why I and many others support Kaepernick:

It is a call for America to be a better nation. Kaepernick’s silent protest has sparked thousands of important conversations around the nation. The reason there is so much controversy in the first place is because Kaepernick is forcing the American people to think. He has forced us to look closer at our society and reassess whether America is worthy of blind patriotism.

Kaepernick has called for America to take a closer look at the way we treat minorities and people of color. In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement has protested the fact that police officers have been repeatedly failed to be prosecuted for shooting unarmed black men. The movement has sparked a national conversation about race in America and the systematic injustice that black people face.

Kaepernick cited police violence as one of the many reasons why he was choosing to protest. When asked if he was protesting because he felt personally oppressed, Kaepernick responded:

There have been situations where I feel like I’ve been ill-treated, yes. This stand wasn’t for me. This stand wasn’t because I feel like I’m being put down in any kind of way. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and affect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that, and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

(Later in the interview he told the story of how, because they were the only black people in the neighborhood, he and a college buddy had the police called on them. When the cops arrived they entered the residence, guns drawn, even though Kaepernick and his friend were merely trying to help a friend move out of his house)

As a professional athlete Kaepernick is using his platform to bring attention to these important issues and he has put out a call to America to become a better nation. The question is, will we answer it?

Kaepernick is exhibiting true patriotism. Under the First Amendment, Colin Kaepernick and all Americans have the right to the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and they possess the right to peaceably protest. Nearly all Americans seem to agree that these rights are the cornerstones of America but it is interesting to watch as those same people become extremely impassioned when they believe someone’s protest to be unpatriotic or “un-American.”

I would argue that sitting/kneeling during the national anthem is not un-American but rather it embodies the spirit of what it means to be American. To be American is to stand up for what is right. It is to stand up for what it is just. It is to stand up for equality. And that is exactly what Kaepernick is doing.

Kaepernick’s protest is meant to be voice for the voiceless, not a disrespectful act against the military or the American flag. Here is Kaepernick’s reply when asked what he would say to people who believe the flag to be a symbol of the military:

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

While it still may be difficult to support the manner in which Kaepernick has chosen to protest, it is important to remember the reason behind why Kaepernick is doing so and the message he is trying to promote. After talking with former Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick and his supporters chose to kneel rather than sit during the anthem as a way of showing greater repect to military servicemen and women.

Since his actions became national news, thousands of servicemen and women have shared their support for Kaepernick, many stating that they fought to protect people’s right to free speech so that people could call for America to be a better nation. That is exactly what Kaepernick is doing. In this regard I would argue that Kaepernick is honoring the military and those who have fought for our country, not disrespecting them.

Despite popular opinion, Kaepernick did not seek out attention. Unreported by the media is the fact that Kaepernick remained seated for the national anthem during all four of the 49ers preseason games. During the first two games his silent protest went unnoticed because Kaepernick was not dressed in uniform and did not play during either game. Only after the second-to-last preseason game (August 20th) did social media notice something was amiss and Kaepernick began to draw national attention.

He has continued the conversation and incited people to talk about injustice. The very fact that I am writing this piece demonstrates the power of Kaepernick’s protests. He has reignited a national conversation about race that all too often seems to flare up and then quickly die away. The frequency of these conversations, however, is increasing and I believe that it is through open dialogue like this that America will slowly begin to change.

100% of Kaepernick’s jersey sales and an additional $1 million of his own money will be donated to charities that help communities in need. After becoming national news, Kaepernick’s jersey sales jumped to #1 in the league. By donating that money as well as his own to organization that fight for equality and justice, Kaepernick is putting his money where his mouth is.

He has turned his protest into a movement greater than himself and it is possible that doing so will result in real tangible change.

There is growing support for Kaepernick around the League and elsewhere. During his post-game interview, Colin Kaepernick told reporters that he had had a “open conversation” with his teammates where he explained to them why he had chosen to take a stand. He told reporters that since that conversation he had received a great deal of support from his teammates.

Both the San Francisco 49ers and the NFL have released statements saying that they support their players’ right to stand – or not stand – during the national anthem. While that had not stopped the criticism of Kaepernick, it is inspiring to watch as more and more people have begun to express signs of solidarity for Kaepernick and his message.

After talking with former Green Beret and NFL long-snapper Nate Boyer, Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel for the anthem during the last preseason game on September 1st. He was joined by teammate Eric Reed, and Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks remained seated during the anthem before his preseason game. Denver Broncos linebacker Brendan Marshall also chose to take a knee before his game – a gesture that cost him an endorsement deal.

Opening week of the regular season – the anniversary of 9/11- saw even more support for Kaepernick. Numerous players on the 49ers, LA Rams, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots either knelt, raised fists, or showed other signs of solidarity with Kaepernick during the national anthem. At the same time, nearly all players on the Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks stood with their arms showing unity and support.

Outside of football, US Women’s National Team star, Meghan Rapinoe, was intentionally prevented from taking a knee during the anthem when, aware of Rapinoe’s intentions, the Washington Spirit chose to change its pre-game ceremonies. That, however, did not stop Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, who – citing solidarity for Kapernick –remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance during a session of that state’s legislature. Similarly inspired by the quarterback, all the players of San Francisco’s Mission High School knelt during the national anthem before their game to protest racial injustice.

Thousands more private citizens, sports fans, activists, politicians, veterans, professional athletes, celebrities, etc. have all expressed their support for Kaepernick on social media and have called for America to take a closer look at racial issues.


As of right now, Kaepernick and many of his supporters plan to continue their protests for as long as necessary until the status quo changes.




In all the debate and the noise, I fear that Colin Kaepernick’s message is often lost. It is very easy to draw battle lines and debate about whether or not he is using his platform as a professional athlete appropriately, but ultimately, the values Kaepernick is fighting for are values we all hold most dear:

By kneeling, Kaepernick is standing up for equality. He is staying up for justice. He is standing up for what it right.

…That is why I support Colin Kaepernick.

Special thanks to Luc Benjamin, Tchorzky Eugene, Ramses Ngachoko, Cormac McAdams, Pat Watson, Will Hansberry, Declan Leary, and Trevor Barrant for sharing their thoughts with me.









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Kaepernick’s Protest: A True Form of Patriotism