Recently, Colin Kaepernick declared that he will opt out of his contact with the San Francisco 49ers to become a free agent. On the surface, it seems like no big deal. An NFL player opting out of his contract to seek new surroundings is something that is done every off-season. However, every player doesn’t have the attention surrounding them the way Kaepernick had during the 2016 season. Despite that, it is odd, yet very convenient, to read and hear various opinions on one aspect of Colin Kaepernick’s social awareness and actions of last season and that is his decision to stand for the national anthem. Some people see it as him “giving in,” and “being influenced by money” or, even more hilarious, “not down for the cause.” These takes are, at the least, shortsighted and at worst, lazy.
Colin Kaepernick was arguably the most socially aware professional athlete in the past year. His decision to sit for the anthem was due to the oppression faced by people of color in this country at the hands of law enforcement. He spoke eloquently and also listened to a person, a former NFL player and Green Beret, who advised him that sitting may be too much of a deterrent to his actual message. With that, he went from sitting to kneeling, a minor adjustment that had a visual and lasting impact.
Throughout the season, Kap continued to use his platform to speak for the people who lacked the platform to have their voices heard. He spoke about his desire and need to change conditions of people who needed help and laid out plans to use his money, time, and resources to do so. The same coverage that he received for kneeling certainly did not reach the levels of the coverage he received for actually following through with his words to improve the lives of others and be selfless, but he was always about doing the right thing.
Now that the 2016 season is in the rearview mirror and the 2017 season is months away, he decided to modify the one tactic that people clung to all of last season: He came out and said he would stand for the anthem next season. To use a sports metaphor, it is no different than any halftime adjustment. To use an education metaphor, it is like a revised draft of a paper. To use everyday life, it is like any adjustment people choose to make in their lives. He never said he would stop doing the work he did in the past, and he never said this country has improved to the point he would like to see it. However, he and people invested in doing goodwill for others understand that in order to continue to do such work, adjustments have to be made. The kneeling was symbolic of a message; it was not THE message. With that said, people in such a predictable fashion, have simplified his decision to stand as a message that he sold out or gave in to the man instead of using critical thinking skills to examine that the game of life is all about making adjustments while staying true to yourself and your cause.
The actions Kap took in 2016 were to make change, and he has done that. Young kids, teenagers and adults engaged in conversation about the state of race relations, institutional inequities, structural and institutional racism which is not easy to do because the mere mention of race makes people uneasy and damn trying to have a conversation about structural and institutional racism. Topics like that are either above people’s heads or they simply aren’t trying to have them and would prefer to bathe in The River of Ignorance and Denial.
There is nothing cool about being ignorant or being in denial. However, it is completely fine to educate yourself and watch the conversation from the shadows instead of injecting “I-told-you-so’s” and masturbatory declarations that his kneeling in 2016 was disingenuous and that dissenters were right about Kap all along, whatever “right all along” means. There is nothing cool about an ill-informed or inept opinion on a topic.
Conversely, there is nothing wrong with looking beyond the symbol of kneeling and focusing on the message and how an adjustment can help further a message. Him deciding to stand for the national anthem isn’t moving the goalpost in his quest for social justice: It’s making an adjustment, an adjustment that is understandable especially when the message and the execution benefits people who lack the resources and platform to go above and beyond in their duty to mankind.