November 3 – Happy Birthday, Colin Kaepernick

Posted on November 3, 2017

He was kind of a big name in football. For a while, he was a really big name!  

After all, he led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 after taking over the quarterback position from the injured starter.

But somehow I had managed to never hear of him...until he quietly started protesting.

Colin Kaepernick, who was born in Wisconsin on this date in 1987 but grew up mostly in California, played football, basketball, and baseball at high school - and was really good at all three. He was also a 4.0 student! Kaepernick also played football brilliantly for the University of Nevada before joining the 49ers. 

From 2012 on, there have been lots of highly publicized instances of police brutality toward and killing of black people in the U.S. (and the occasional not-a-police-officer / security guard / neighborhood watch coordinator killing as well). Because of these killings, a protest movement called Black Lives Matter (BLM) sprang up. The message of this movement is that black people, just like all other people, treasure their lives and their loved ones, and they should be treated with the same respect, dignity, and care that other people are. 

Unfortunately, some people have misunderstood the protest. Either through ignorance of the actual facts or through willful and racist mental gymnastics, some people have decided that BLM says that black lives are the only ones that matter, or that black lives matter more than other people's lives., that's not what Black Lives Matter means. It means, "Please stop killing us. Our lives matter, too!"

By 2016, Colin Kaepernick decided that he had to do something about this police brutality issue. Very quietly, he started sitting during the playing of the national anthem at the beginning of each game. When he was asked why he sat during the playing of the anthem, he explained that "this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street..."

Very soon after his peaceful protest began, Kaepernick switched from sitting during the anthem to kneeling on one knee during the anthem. He did this in an effort to show more respect to the people serving in the military and veterans - he'd talked to a former NFL player and vet and had decided on "taking a knee" as the most respectful form of pre-game protest.

Some folks seem to think that Kaepernick was disrespecting the flag - which is puzzling, because he chose to kneel because it is such a respectful gesture. And, by the way, most of the folks who get super duper upset about respect for the flag and anthem do all sorts of things that many see as disrespectful. They mill around, chat, get hot dogs and chips, go to the restroom during the anthem. They make flags into patches on their jeans or into tote bags; they fly flags in the rain and let them touch the ground. I'm not upset about all of these things - but it's curious that all of that gets a pass but kneeling quietly is seen as a terrible thing!

Some folks seem to think that Kaepernick was an ungrateful guy with tons of money - how dare HE complain about America? But, again, this is puzzling; if people who are in the public eye - entertainers and sports figures, for example - see an injustice in America, isn't it a WONDERFUL thing if they respectfully and peacefully protest? I mean, we don't want every celebrity to selfishly sit around, counting their blessings along with their money, while marginalized folks suffer or die - we want them to speak up, speak out, try to make a difference. Don't we?

Anyway, I'm using the past tense about Kaepernick because he isn't playing pro football right now. He is a free agent and hasn't been signed to any team, probably because of his controversial protest.

This fall, inappropriate tweets from the president made Kaepernick's quiet, small protest into a huge deal. Suddenly athletes from other sports, all over the U.S. and even a few places in the world, have been kneeling. Many fans have been kneeling as well. Suddenly everyone is talking about taking a knee - and Kaepernick is more famous for the protest he started than for his football skills. 

Also, Kaepernick costumes were big this Halloween. 

Of course, there has been a backlash to this renewed protest, just as there was to Kaepernick's original protest. 

But to care enough about one's country to peacefully protest the bad aspects of that country IS patriotism. It's a vote for hope, a vote that says that things can change, people and institutions can improve. 

I think that, in the future, Kaepernick will continue to be known more for his peaceful protest than for his athletic accomplishments. And that's as it should be. 

After all, as he says, this is bigger than football.

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