(REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo).

Feels: Kaepernick’s Courage Leads Movement


By Zoya Zia

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Over the past few weeks, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has repeatedly made headlines. His decision to sit down during the national anthem at a preseason game in August faced criticism from some, while others were inspired to follow his lead.

 

Eric Reid (#35) and Colin Kaepernick (#7) kneel besides free agent Nate Bayer on the sideline during the anthem (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images).

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneel besides free agent Nate Boyer on the sideline during the anthem (Michael Zagaris/Getty Images).

 

Kaepernick continues to stand against racial oppression in the United States by sitting down before football games. Despite the controversy, he refuses to step down until he sees change. Teammate Eric Reid recently joined him in protest as they kneeled during the national anthem.

 

There is much to be said about the nature of patriotism and the national anthem itself. Kaepernick remains the center of gravity for several important conversations.

 

Colin Kaepernick listens to music in a locker room (Michael Zagaris).

Colin Kaepernick listens to music in a locker room (Michael Zagaris).

 

For starters, the end of the third verse in “The Star-Spangled Banner” overtly celebrates slavery. Although this verse is never sung, it is an eerie metaphor of the history of racism in America.

 

 

For people of color, especially those in black communities, it may be difficult to feel patriotic for a country built on marginalization. Stars and stripes flew in times of slavery and segregation. Though many regard the flag as a symbol of unity, it can also be viewed as a reminder of a divisive past.

 

Previous systems of oppression have transitioned into new structures. From the prison industrial complex to repeated instances of police brutality, racial inequality persists. Elements of the past are still visible in the present. Kaepernick is choosing not to turn a blind eye to this reality.

 

Staying conscious of problems and constantly striving for improvement is perhaps the only manner in which progress can be made. Kaepernick has explained his stance, calling out Islamophobic responses and social issues in the process. His determination is clear to the public eye.

 

 

On social media pages including Twitter and Instagram, Kaepernick regularly shares articles about injustice. Willing to share his opinions online, he took it a step further by making a statement in front of thousands of people. National audiences are still disputed over this decision.

 

The commissioner of the NFL voiced his disapproval and urged a commitment to patriotism. Various commentators and football players shared this perspective. Some 49ers fans uploaded videos in which they burned his jersey, vowing to never support him again.

 

Trending hashtags including #VeteransForKaepernick and #BoycottNFL showcase a divide in perspective. The former hashtag was used by veterans in support of Kaepernick, refuting claims that he disrespected the military. Meanwhile, the latter hashtag held a drastic opposition.

 

 

While jerseys may be set aflame or thrown out of the closet, many more are being sold. Kaepernick’s jersey sales have skyrocketed to the top of the NFL. In the aftermath of this success, he pledged to donate his proceeds from the sales.

 

 

The 49ers also agreed to donate $1 million to charities dedicated to addressing racial injustice, cited by Kaepernick himself. He is both vocal and active in working towards social change.

 

Several prominent figures have defended Kaepernick. President Obama and basketball star Kevin Durant expressed words of support while rappers J. Cole and Trey Songz sported #7 on stage.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s leading all-time scorer, described the ironies surrounding the controversy. The same people who demand patriotism by bragging about freedoms complain when individuals use that freedom of speech to criticize issues in America.

 

Colin Kaepernick prepares to enter the stadium (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports).

Colin Kaepernick prepares to enter the stadium (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports).

 

Although most of the attention is directed towards Kaepernick, the issue is now bigger than him. Professional athletes including USWNT soccer player Megan Rapinoe and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane observed similar moments of silent protest.

 

Perhaps most inspired by Kaepernick, an astonishing number of young athletes on high school football teams and college football teams are joining in. By taking a knee in front of their communities, they are making the movement their own.

 

 

 

 

As youth usher the movement forward, parallels can be noted between Kaepernick and an outspoken athlete from the past.

 

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, former Denver Nuggets guard, refused to stand for the national anthem because of global oppression. His reputation was tarnished with fines and suspensions as he ultimately left the NBA. Still, he says he has no regrets and wholeheartedly supports Kaepernick.

 

Kaepernick may confront the same hatred faced by Abdul-Rauf. The silver lining in Kaepernick’s case is the immense support and admiration of youth who will undoubtedly shape the future.

 

Colin Kaepernick greets fans after a preseason game (AP Photo / Denis Poroy).

Colin Kaepernick greets fans after a preseason game (AP Photo / Denis Poroy).

 

To read more about Abdul-Rauf and the parallels with Kaepernick’s decision, read The Nation’s article here.