From the September-October 2016 issue of News & Letters
Colin Kaepernick, quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, had the courage to explain why he remained seated during the national anthem when somebody finally noticed. Not surprisingly, he was called unpatriotic and told to shut up and play: “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.”
But there has been widespread backlash to the backlash, as fellow athletes, Black and white, have sprung to Kaepernick’s defense. Both veterans and active duty service personnel have been among those supporting his right to take a stand by not standing for the national anthem. Kaepernick has generated attention, and a surprising amount of support, for Black Lives Matter among people who up till now had paid less attention to marches and demonstrations, but would listen to a sports hero, even when he is currently riding the bench (another reason his detractors gave for him to shut up: he was not playing well enough).
Few people, including me, realized that verse three of the Star-Spangled Banner gloats over the deaths of the “hireling and slave”—escapees who fought with the British in the War of 1812 on the promise of freedom. It turns out too that the author, Francis Scott Key, when he was later a Baltimore prosecutor, acted like current prosecutors in Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago in protecting police who murdered Blacks.
Reprisals followed John Carlos and Tommy Smith’s Black Power protest on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. The NFL, always trying to intimidate the NFL Players Association, has not yet acted against Kaepernick.