San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is making headlines, and it is not for football reasons. During the last three preseason football games, Kaepernick decided to sit during the singing of the national anthem. Is Kaepernick right or wrong to refuse to stand during the national anthem?
Why is Kaepernick Sitting?
Kaepernick is refusing to stand during as a sign of protest. What is he protesting? When reporters asked him to explain his decision, Kaepernick responded:
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 later added:
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 effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t. This country stands for liberty, freedom, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.
As you can imagine, people have offered various responses. Some are supportive of Kaepernick’s stand (I should say his sit) and others are vehemently opposed his decision, saying that it is unpatriotic.
Kaepernick and The First Amendment
Let’s deal with first things first. Colin Kaepernick has a right to express his opinions without the fear of censorship or restraint. Expressing his views is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. He has a right to his opinions. The corollary is true as well. People who agree or disagree with him have the right to express their views without censorship or restraint. Constitutionally, he is within his rights to sit or stand during the singing or playing of the national anthem. And, others are within their constitutional rights to disagree and criticize his refusal to stand. He is exercising his first amendment right the right way – nonviolently. We may not agree with the way he is going about expressing his views, but we should fight for him to be able to express his views.
Kaepernick is Not Doing Anything New
Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem is nothing new. There are plenty of people who sit during the national anthem. Some sit because they are lazy. Others refuse to stand or even roam the corridors during the national anthem because they view it as an undercard to the main event. And, some sit out of protest. But, the interesting thing is sports figures opposing the national anthem is nothing new. Jon Schuppe, in a recent article, gives a brief history of sports figures protesting the national anthem:
- Jackie Robinson, arguably one of the greatest baseball players to play the game, wrote:
As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
- Forrest Bynum, in 1970, refused to take his helmet off during the national anthem.
- In 1972, Wayne Collett and Vince Matthews chatted during the anthem as a sign of protest.
- A couple of months later, as a sign of protest, Eastern Michigan track team warmed up during the singing of the anthem.
- Hardy Williams, a Los Angles High School football coach, turned his back to the flag when the national anthem was played.
- In 1996, Denver Nuggets point guard, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, (formerly Chris Jackson) refused to stand during the national anthem.
- In 2003, Toni Smith, captain of the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team, began turning her back during the song to protest American inequalities and the coming war in Iraq.
So, Colin Kaepernick follows in a long line of sports figures who have made a public statement, protesting the national anthem. Others have done it in the past, and I am certain others will protest in the future.
To Form A More Perfect Union
Our country is not perfect, but we continue to fight to form “a more perfect union.” We continue to combat racism, sexism, nationalistic arrogance, poverty, consumerism and all kinds of greed. We have problems in this country. Stevie Wonder can see that.
Though this country is 240 years old, we are still transforming. We are still in process, forming the more perfect union. The beauty of America is we have the privilege of forming the more perfect union through nonviolent protests, marches, sit-ins, blockades, voting, running for political offices, and most of all, getting involved in our local communities.
I love what ESPN commentator, Stan Verrett, said: Let’s pay as much attention to the substance (of the flag) as we do to the symbol (of the flag). In essence, Verrett is saying if you honor the flag with your lips while dishonoring with your actions, you are being a hypocrite and not living up to the ideals of which it represents. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus told the Pharisees something similar regarding worship, something infinitely more important than the national anthem:
You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” Matthew 15:7-9
Just like the cross, reading the Bible and attending church, the national anthem at sporting events has become an empty ritual. We transform symbols into substance by living the principles and ideals of the symbol.
Advice to Kaepernick et al
Whereas I appreciate Kaepernick’s motivation – to raise awareness to some injustices in our country, I offer my limited advice:
- Thank God for the freedoms we enjoy. Though we have our problems, the United States is still one of the best countries in the world. We have freedoms and benefits other countries simply don’t have. People – both black and white – died so everyone could enjoy liberty, justice, and equal opportunities – even the chance to play sports and make millions of dollars. Be grateful.
- Exercise your First Amendment rights. You are free to express your opinion. Continue to make people aware of injustice in our country through nonviolent protests. It takes courage to swim against powerful currents. Keep swimming.
- Remember, not every white person in America is racist and not every black person is a victim of racism and discrimination. There are good white police officers and there are corrupt white police officers. The vast majority do their jobs and do them well. There are good black police officers and there are black police officers who use unnecessary force. Yes, we have issues, but we must not generalize.
- Combat racism and discrimination with the power of the gospel. We still feel the pull of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Until Jesus, the Righteous Judge, returns, we must continue to combat injustices by living and preaching the gospel.
- Celebrate the progress we have made and continue to work diligently to form “a more perfect union.”
- Fight injustice in tangible ways, too. Sitting during the national anthem brings awareness to the ills of our country, but it doesn’t solve the problems. Get involved in violent and diminishing communities. Give some of your 11.9 million dollars away to dilapidated inner cities schools. Set up a foundation for poor children in the central city. I know you can’t help everyone, but you can do for one what you wish you could do for all.
- Believe and proclaim the gospel of Jesus. Jesus is the hope of the world. His death and resurrection transform the human heart. The flag and the anthem will pass away. They are powerless to save people and change hearts. Only the good news of Jesus changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
- Be the change about which you are protesting.
As followers of Jesus, we must continue to preach the gospel to our world. Jesus commands us to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). He did not call us to pledge our allegiance to the flag and the national anthem, but to him as our Savior and King. May we never get it twisted!
What is your take on the Colin Kaepernick controversy?