Our national anthem ends with a question: Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and home of the brave?
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick must not think so. Kaepernick’s’ recent refusal to stand during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner during last weekend’s 49ers pre-season game sparked an ongoing debate regarding the players’ respect for the country.
While I disagree with him ideologically, I respect his right to protest. Even though he is using what might nowadays be the single uniting aspect of our country: the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said to NFL.com.
Military veterans, government officials and many other Americans are unhappy with the player, especially after he said he will continue sitting as the Star-Spangled Banner plays. These unhappy folks are understandably insulted, but neither the law nor the constitution defines the insult as a crime. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that the burning of the United States flag, what I would argue is significantly more disrespectful than Kaepernick’s action, does not violate the law.
There is very little room for debate regarding how effective Kaepernick’s decision was in terms of popularity. The purpose of protest is to raise awareness and initiate change. It’s hard to disagree the first has been achieved — the national media conversation is still revolving around the player. It’s still unknown how much of an impact a football quarterback will have on an ongoing national issue, but it doesn’t seem to be dying down.
The major debate is whether Kaepernick’s action was ethical and respectful. Maybe Kaepernick didn’t think it through, but contending that the whole country “oppresses black people” is a bit much I’d say. It’s clear the justice system is broken and tensions with police are extremely high, but I have no doubt the majority of the country is full of good people.
I’m not sure where Kaepernick’s intentions lie. If he chooses to stand for the next anthem, I will praise him. His move received national attention, which is important for the cause he is fighting for. But to silence the critics, he needs to explicitly show his aim is not to be disrespectful but rather spread awareness of the cause.
If #7 chooses to remain sitting in the weeks to come, “taking a stand” by sitting will have evolved into a counterproductive stunt.
If Kaepernick finds it necessary to protest by purposefully disrespecting the national anthem and in turn the country, let him — a true American would fight for his right to do so. But a true patriot would not join him.
I just hope Kaepernick remembers that he is protected by the rights that only exist thanks to the very anthem he is insulting.
And with that, I rest my case.
The Bar-On Brief is a weekly column that runs Thursdays.
Follow Shauli Bar-On on Twitter @shauli_baron