On Friday night San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem as a gesture of protest against what he feels are wrongdoings against minorities.
Here's what he said:
"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."
Kaepernick is of course an employee of the 49ers, and here is their official statement:
"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
In addition, his immediate boss, 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, says Kaepernick's decision not to stand during the national anthem is his right as a citizen and that in this case Kelly does not have the right to tell him to do otherwise.
And of course you might be wondering what the NFL thinks, especially since the NFL is one of the most image-conscious (although not always effective at projecting that image) of the major sports leagues. Their statement: "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem."
Sum it all up and here's what, in effect, they're all saying, "We don't have a rule regarding this," (although I'm guessing they wish they did), "so whether he stands or sits is up to Kaepernick."
For his part, Kaepernick is clearly aware not just of what he is doing but of the backlash he may face; he didn't inform the club or anyone affiliated with the team of his intentions to protest the national anthem. And he's faced tremendous backlash from people -- including a number of NFL players -- who feel his actions are an affront to what the flag and the anthem stands for.
Whether Kaepernick deserves the criticism he's faced may be open to debate. I've attended numerous sporting events where, during the national anthem, some in the stands continue their conversations, keep talking on their phones, keep their backs turned to the flag... and no one says anything. (Of course they aren't professional athletes who are supposed to be serving as role models, but still -- should that matter?)
And I could easily argue that standing or sitting during the anthem makes you no more or no less an American -- one gesture does not prove or disprove your devotion to your country.
But what is definitely open for debate is whether Kaepernick should make such a gesture while representing his employer: on Friday night he was in full uniform, in full view of thousands of fans in the stadium and millions on television, wearing his team's uniform and doing the job he's paid to do. I could argue that sitting during the anthem, in spite of having been "encouraged" to stand, reflects poorly on his employers and the league and is an action that should be subject to disciplinary action.
But I won't.
Kaepernick expressed himself in a manner that many, including me, don't agree with. I would have stood. I believe we should stand for the playing of the national anthem. And I don't think jobs and politics are a good mix; I think Kaepernick should express his opinions on his own time, so to speak, and not on what is in effect his employer's time.
So yes, I would have found a different way to express my opinion.
But while I don't agree with what he did, I absolutely support his right to do it. The First Amendment is the first amendment for a reason.
And I respect Kaepernick's willingness to take a stand on an issue he clearly cares deeply about, knowing that he could pay a heavy personal price.
"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," Kaepernick said. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
Many organizations don't allow their employees to express political opinions either during the course of performing their jobs or on social media accounts associated with that job. If that's the case for you, and you have agreed to those terms, then that's one thing.
But if your employer hasn't... or if you, as an employer, haven't...
Like many, NFL players are employees but they're also people. And more importantly, they're Americans. As citizens they have the right to speak out on issues that concern them. They have the right to speak out on issues that affect them, their families, their communities... They have that right, and while our flag and our anthem represents all the people who have sacrificed to build this country, our flag and our anthem also represents our rights as citizens to say things, verbally or nonverbally, that others may not agree with.
Sometimes being an American means saying something that other people don't want to hear -- after all, that is often how change begins.
Should Kaepernick have chosen that moment to make his feelings known? I don't think so.
But he certainly had the right to.