Athletes and Politics – Is This A Way to Make America Aware?

 

Kaepernick Kneeling

By now, everyone has seen the image of Colin Kaepernick sitting or kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.  It has caused some outrage with most people saying that he is not showing the proper respect to the Armed Forces or to his country.

Funny thing, Kaepernick is expressing one of the most valued treasures the  United States Constitution states:  The Freedom of Speech.  It is so valued and so important, that the founding fathers deemed it necessary to make it the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Other athletes of the United States have followed Kaepernick’s lead:  US soccer star Megan Rapione, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid and Seattle Seahawk’s Jeremy Lane;  whose actions have caused Seahawk fans to want him kicked off the team regardless of how talented he is.

This isn’t the first time athletes have used their popularity to make a statement.  Muhammad Ali, one of the most beloved boxers of our time, was blasted by many when, as Cassius Clay, refused to be conscripted into the Armed Forces to fight in the Vietnam War.  He cited his religious beliefs, changed his name and was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles.  He eventually got his conviction overturned in 1971 by the US Supreme Court and returned to boxing after nearly four years.

In the 1968 Summer Olympics, track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the playing of the US National Anthem to show solidarity with people fighting internationally for human rights.

While I don’t condone the actions of these athletes because it does show a sign of disrespect toward the flag, country and Armed Services, I have to respect their reasons as to why they did what they did.

Kaepernick has said he would not show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses people of color, citing police brutality.  He is just the latest athlete of color to use his popularity as a national platform against racial injustice.

What I believe is really an issue here  – is the issue of racial inequality has been an issue for as long as I can remember.  I grew up in Detroit and vaguely recall the riots of 1967.  I was only 9 years old and didn’t understand why, for a short period of time, I couldn’t play with my friend down the block or had to stay indoors on summer days.  I found out later in life that it was because my friend was black and I was white and our parents were just protecting their families by not taking any chances.

Mind you, our neighborhood was far away from where the actual riots were…I don’t remember anything bad happening but we were still affected.  In fact, a few times there were National Guard vehicles that came down our streets.

Things were different after that.  The family of my friend moved away after a few years and gone were the neighborhood gatherings that we used to have.  But it did get back to the point where we at least said hello to each other.

I am going to end this article quoting NBA great and activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in an essay he wrote for the Washington Post regarding Kaepernick’s actions.  It is the last paragraph:

What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here.

I don’t think that Kaepernick did this to draw attention to himself.  In fact, he did it to draw attention to “racial inequities” that have been plaguing this country for decades.  All the people that have been outraged by Kapernick and other athletes kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem need to look past that action and understand what the real reason is behind the action.  They are not doing it to disrespect the flag or country…in fact, they do it because they want this country to do better.

I may not approve of their actions but I do respect their reasons and support them in them expressing themselves by utilizing their First Amendment rights.

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