If You’re Not Kneeling, You Just Don’t Get It

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after a victory against the Rams in Los Angeles, California, on December 24, 2016. (Robert Hanashiro, USA Today via Reuters

Beginning during the 2016 season, when Kaepernick was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, the University of Nevada graduate explained his choice not to stand for the anthem as a protest against the way that minorities are still being treated in the United States.

Kaepernick has received praise and support from some, but a large contingent of the NFL and America in general remain undecided or critical of Kaepernick’s protest. That’s a shame, because what Kaepernick is doing isn’t just within his rights — it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of equality the USA was founded on.

Kaepernick’s Position and Black Lives Matter

Shortly after the first time the young quarterback took a knee, he expressed his reasoning for the act at a press conference. He said that fair treatment for African-Americans and all minorities was a bigger issue than football, and that he was unwilling to stand and show pride for a country that oppresses its own people.

Folks quickly drew connections between Kaepernick’s complaints and the Black Lives Matter movement, a civil rights activist group formed after the killing of Trevon Martin in 2012. Since 2012, BLM has consistently condemned and drawn attention to the flurry of seemingly mindless acts of violence perpetrated against minority groups by American authorities.

Critics of the group have responded with messages of “all lives matter,” suggesting that BLM’s message is meant to promote some form of supremacy for African-Americans. They have stated that the NFL should penalize Kaepernick and other players who protest, or that the league should make such behavior outright forbidden, but these critics are wrong in both cases.

Athlete Activism and the Ignorance of Privilege

49ers safety Eric Reid was the first to join Kaepernick when he knelt in 2016. As soon as one week after the initial demonstration, players from the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots showed solidarity with the movement.

SAN DIEGO, CA – SEPTEMBER 1: Eric Reid #35 and Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline during the anthem.  Photo by Michael Zagaris

In 2017, entire teams chose to kneel or protest in other ways after President Donald Trump refused to condemn racial violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina. It would be impossible for the NFL to penalize such behavior, because these protests are protected by the first amendment of the United States Constitution, a fact that seems lost on some.

What Kaepernick has inspired is only the most recent example of athlete activism. As someone who can command the public eye, he is using his influence to draw attention to the despicable acts taking place under America’s nose.

The former 49er isn’t the first to do this, nor is this the first time an athlete has sought to advance the cause of the civil rights movement. Instead of the Hall of Fame, Kaepernick could find his name in such esteemed company as Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Muhammed Ali.

In 2017, you might think that America is mature enough to praise Kaepernick for that, but it’s not. Even if they don’t realize it, those who criticize Kaepernick’s acts are taking a stance against the fabric of our nation itself. Without the right to protest, America’s democracy would cease to exist.

All Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter

The rhetoric of groups that oppose BLM and athletes like Kaepernick is basically “get over it”.  But if you’re going to uphold the idea that all Americans deserve equal treatment under the law, then a racist act is a racist act. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about one act or a thousand. To say that All Lives Matter is to misconstrue the message of Black Lives Matter, it’s purpose is to tarnish the BLM movement’s message. BLM is not saying that the lives of other races do not matter, or that Black Lives Matter more than other races, they are saying Black lives should matter to you just as much as the lives of other races.  It is a plead for EQUALITY.

Privileged white Americans have never been subjected to racial profiling, and they don’t have to be concerned about what might happen during a routine traffic stop in the wrong state. The message of BLM doesn’t seek to demote whites. BLM is trying to express that yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are being given the same value in the eyes of the law and that is wrong.

Activism Isn’t Polite

You might not like the tone BLM takes, or the image of NFL players kneeling before a game, but if you think that makes these things fundamentally wrong, it’s time for a U.S. history lesson.

Getting the attention of a nation requires raising a voice every now and again. The nature of oppression is to keep people down, so speaking softly and asking politely doesn’t tend to work. You have to speak up to advance the cause.

America has never been about abiding by an established set of rules without ever questioning authority. This is a nation founded by religious Protestants — remember? Those who’ve fought and died for this country didn’t do so to ensure everything would be the way they like it in the future. They did it to protect the freedom of their fellow Americans to speak up, even if it’s in disagreement. Have we forgotten that?

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