THE SANTA CLARA
September 29, 2016
Colin Kaepernick’s protest has ignited a conversation that is featured on nearly every news network, media platform and around every dinner table in the United States, and it’s about damn time.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback has chosen to kneel during the national anthem before every game because he does not wish to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
A steady stream of players from all across the NFL have joined the protest by taking a knee, raising a fist, locking arms with other teammates or declining to answer questions during press conferences, as Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman chose to do on Sept. 22.
Some citizens applaud Kaepernick for taking a stand (or in his case, a knee) and bringing attention to the problem of racial injustice and the killing of people of color by police officers. Others accuse him of being disruptive, unpatriotic and using a serious issue to bring attention and publicity to himself. Some have even sent him death threats.
But in order to fully understand this issue, we must diverge from the present to return to the past. “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key, describes the morning after battle in the War of 1812. The poem is four stanzas long, though typically only the first stanza is performed, perhaps because it would just take too much time to play the song in its entirety.
It could also be that the song is blatantly racist. Stanza three features the lines “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” This refers to the almost certain death slaves faced during wartime; they were completely defenseless, unable to take up arms and protect themselves and unable to avoid the conflict and flee their places of imprisonment for safer lodgings.
Like other illustrious men of his time, Key owned slaves. He also believed Africans were a “distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”
Fast-forward to 2016. This year alone, 708 people have died at the hands of police officers according to the Washington Post Fatal Force Database. Of those 708 people, 383 were people of color. Racial injustice then, racial injustice now. This is Kaepernick’s protest.
“Sure, I get where he’s coming from. He’s using his platform to make a difference and forcing the country to talk about something that definitely needs to be talked about,” said a Santa Clara student who wished to remain anonymous. “But you have to think about him as a football player with a declining career. It makes me think he did this for publicity.”
To be clear, Kaepernick knelt for two weeks before anyone noticed his protest. A reporter had to question his actions during an interview for him to speak out about what he was doing.
If this was a publicity stunt, it sure didn’t start like one.
In addition to being skeptical about his motive, many students disagreed with the way Kaepernick was protesting. I pressed them to offer alternative acts of demonstration.
“Donate money,” said another anonymous student. “He’s a millionaire professional athlete. He can do so much more for the cause than other people and he won’t.”
Again, there’s a need for clarity. Kaepernick has pledged $1 million to organizations he feels are making a difference in the fight to end racial injustice in the U.S. He also stated in an Instagram post that all the money he receives in jersey sales (players receive two-thirds of the money from sales with the rest going back to the NFL organization) will go “back into the communities.” The 49ers also promised $1 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation in the hopes that the donation will go towards correcting racial inequality in the Bay Area.
With that being said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and for a topic like this, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of them. I only ask you to think on this: Kaepernick is exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech every time his knee hits the grass. This is the same right that allows Mike Ditka to go on the radio and tell anyone who has a problem with the flag to “get the hell out” of the country.
Because when you boil it down, this fight is about freedom of speech and the demonizing and attempted silencing of those brave enough to speak out and force the country to face its ugly past and ghastly present in the hopes for a better future.
Contact Claire McLoughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554- 4852.