Alternative Perspectives on the Kaepernick Controversy

 Colin Kaepernick kisses his bicep following a 49er touchdown. (photo by Kevin C. Cox)

By John Honea

Quick question- how many verses are in the Star Spangled Banner? Let's let that question simmer while we move on for a moment...

Colin Kaepernick sat down during the National Anthem. Sorry if that lacked any shock and awe but that in and of itself is no longer news. What is news, however, is the constant string of reactions that have continued to come in since the 49ers preseason game against Green Bay last Friday. The response has naturally and overwhelmingly been critical, even angry. Some supporters have stepped in, naturally, as protesters rarely stand alone. The focus, however, has leaned on simple courtesy and etiquette: the flag waves, the song chimes in, and we all stand. It is a ritual so ingrained in our minds that one single person out of a stadium of tens of thousands easily distracts from the entire game (granted it was a preseason game).

So who is right? Everyone, really. Who is wrong? Well... everyone, too.

National anthems have played a role in kicking off sporting events for a long, long time. So has the disrespect of those anthems, sorry to say. Consider the NHL, a league in which both the Canadian and American national anthems are played before every game, with the home team's anthem playing first. In Montreal, Canadiens fans have been known to boo the Star Spangled Banner. In St. Louis, Blues fans have booed during the playing of "O Canada." But this is just sport, right? "You're on our turf, and we'll boo your anthem." Little uproar has ever been caused by this. 

Kapernick's decision to sit down during the national anthem was unashamedly a blatant sign of disrespect. But that's what he was going for, so what good is pointing this out? The disrespect to the flag was his goal, but where he angered fans most was in his refusal to take part in a ritual that seems to level the social field. All of us -- fans and multi million dollar athletes alike -- stand at the same time to take part in a ceremony that identifies us as the same. So, for that fan who worked from 9 to 5 on Friday before the game, seeing their starting quarterback whose very name is embroidered on the back of every other replica jersey in the stadium, taking a seat during the national anthem could be considered a bit of a slap in the face. Consider the point missed there, Colin.

But now the follow up interviews have been conducted and his opinion has been voiced. Now we know why he sat. So, allow for a moment the point of view an American veteran.

The natural reaction is of spite and anger. That flag, for a veteran, is an emblem, much as the 49ers logo is. The National Anthem is comparable to a fight song, like one you might find at a university like the University of Nevada-Reno. It is understandable, then, how so many people can immediately react with resentment and even rage. But patriotism may be masking the point here.

The critics of Kaepernick's lack of flag etiquette, while not totally off base, are missing a few considerable points. His actions are, in fact, a practice in freedom. Consider it like this: a man thinks to himself, “I don't like what's going on here,” and sits in protest. Now, there are many other places in the world Kaepernick could have come from, and many, many of those places would have had him imprisoned, possibly beaten, or worse. In this case, social backlash is the worst the accused will have to endure. THAT is the sort of freedom promised in our country. THAT is the freedom Kaepernick is currently practicing. His right to do so is a swinging door. On the one hand what do we think freedom is? The freedom to choose between pizza delivery? Or is it the freedom to stand in front of 160 soda options and mix them to your hearts desire? No, this is it, the freedom to pick and choose your fights, and take a stand (or seat) for it. On the other end, of course, everyone has the right to oppose his view, and state their opinions of it. The whole thing is a picture perfect example of the freedom we enjoy. If Kaepernick were severely punished on a state or federal level for his actions, we really would be oppressed. All of us. 

This is not necessarily to condone Kaepernick's actions, but to say a moment should be taken to consider this as a sign that those freedoms still exist. That we can highlight issues like this through sports can be celebrated. The fact that an athlete can become the center of a social movement says a lot about what is still right in America, whether you agree with it or not. 

All things considered, his choice to sit out for the National Anthem doesn't have to be considered  so disrespectful, as long as he does something with it. Find your audience, Colin, because it isn't Joe Smith sitting in Section 120. You have the ball now. Do something with it. Don't just scramble and throw it away. You have all year to do that.

The answer to the initial question, by the way, is four. There are four verses in the Star Spangled Banner, and anyone ready to cast the first stone should know them all by heart.