Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem: Proof That Our Priorities Are Wrong

-Brian Brownfield-


Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

Let me start by saying I don’t care whether you read this article standing up or sitting down. You have complete freedom to read this piece as you wish, just like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has the freedom to stand or sit during the National Anthem. I won’t tell you what you can or cannot do while enjoying this fine composition that blends sports and politics. But I challenge you to think deeply about the real issue at hand: why do we care so much about what a football player does while he is “supposed” to be paying respect to his country?

I’ll be the first to admit that I cannot stand (no pun intended) what Colin Kaepernick did pregame during a preseason match against the Green Bay Packers. Just in case you were unaware, Kaepernick decided to not stand during the National Anthem because he feels people of color are being oppressed. He stated “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave to get away with murder.”

I was instantly infuriated when I learned of his actions because I am one of those “good ol’ fashioned” Americans with roots in this country dating back to the Quaker days in Pennsylvania in the 1770s. I have family that has been here since this country was founded and I take pride in this country very seriously. At the same time, I admit that there are several flaws with the nation and certain things cannot be overlooked. One such thing is the amount of violence and hatred that burdens this country. I come from a hometown that has the second-highest crime rate per capita in the state of California, behind only Stockton. I get violence. I’ve seen violence. But a lot of the national controversy has been about police brutality and fatal police shootings, something that Kaepernick alluded to in his comments. The media portrays African Americans as the only victims of police brutality. It makes police officers look like they are trigger-happy and simply shooting someone because of their race.

Let’s look at some of the numbers, all courtesy of the Washington Post. As of August 29th, 626 individuals have been shot and killed by police, which puts the United States right on track with the 2015 numbers where 990 individuals were killed by law enforcement. Significant to note, 494 of these people were Caucasian, or 49.9% of deadly police shootings. People of color obviously make up the rest, but 258 of these shootings were of African Americans (26.1%). Another interesting find is that those getting shot and killed by law enforcement are not bound to one age group. 330 victims were age 18-29, 353 were age 30-44, and 277 were age 45 and up. There is obvious evidence to refute the statistics I just presented, but let’s not focus on creating an argument. At a basic level, these numbers would indicate that what Kaepernick said was, somewhat, incorrect.

Why did I waste time digging for that information and even create an article that goes into detail about this? Like everyone else: my priorities are in the wrong. We are in an election year with two polarizing candidates. The transgender issue continues to rear its head with new legislation and cases are being heard around the country. Gun control continues to be debated while the world goes to war. There is widespread belief that the United States could be subject to a terrorist attack at any given moment. And yet here we are having a debate about what an NFL quarterback did on the sidelines of a preseason game, not even an actual game that meant anything. I mean come on, the man exercised his right to express himself freely. Strangely enough, the flag is a symbol of that right and now it feels like we are going in a circle. But again, a sports star has become more polarizing than current political issues that can shape the future of this country. Ashamed? I am too.

No one loves sports more than me. Okay, I can’t prove that statement, but I love all thing sports. So much so that I aim to make my professional career revolve around sports. But professional athletics should not dominate our lives in the fashion that it does and the athletes we cheer and jeer should not overtake American politics. If we lose sight of what we should indulge ourselves with, we will become consumed with what superstars tweet instead of the next article from Valentino Stradford. Oh wait, we already are.

The flag and the National Anthem are a reference to what this country is supposed to represent in an ideal situation: unity and justice for all. While the United States may have been built with practices such as slavery in place, those have long been eradicated and no longer reflect the ideology of a majority in this country. As a Brad Paisley song goes, “I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done. But it ain’t like you and me can rewrite history. Our generation didn’t start this nation but we’re still picking up the pieces, walking over eggshells, fighting over yesterday.” America doesn’t embody those same values anymore and fighting about it doesn’t get us any closer to unity. It separates us and only creates a bigger abyss we must bind before we become united.

Taking a stand (or a sit) for what you believe in is one thing. Refusing to respect the flag of your country is another, regardless of the freedoms it grants him or her. But can we please focus on more important matters to save this great nation?


Editor’s Note: If you have a differing or concurring opinion on this matter and would like to share it with everyone else, send me an email at valentino.stradford@menlo.edu and your response will be considered for publication.