By Colton Williams
This August, in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat down during the National Anthem, saying of his protest, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” referring to recent police shootings. Kaepernick was also criticized for wearing socks adorned with images of pigs dressed as police officers. Now, other athletes have participated in Kaepernick’s protest. Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder for Seattle Reign FC and U.S. Women’s Soccer, kneeled during the National Anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick.
For some reason, Kaepernick sitting has become one of the biggest news stories in recent months. Why does anyone care? Why do we care about the opinion of a mediocre backup quarterback? It seems odd to me that people are getting so worked up about this – either convulsing in fits of patriotism or acting as if Kaepernick is Ghandi reincarnate. Kaepernick’s actual influence on anything of importance, while not nonzero, is certainly negligible when discussing issues on the national scale. The only purpose his actions serve is to anger and divide people even further on an already divisive issue. One argument is that Kaepernick is using his celebrity to bring attention to the issue. Do we really think the issue of police brutality needs help getting attention from a backup quarterback? If you’ve watched the news, viewed social media, or talked to a person in the past year, you have undoubtedly heard the issue of police violence discussed.
Kaepernick is completely within his rights to refuse to stand for the national anthem. Everyone else is also perfectly within their rights to think he is a moron. The late Justice Antonin Scalia said, “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag. But I am not king.” In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Supreme Court invalidated laws against the burning, or general desecration, of the American flag. Scalia ruled with the majority in that case. It’s perfectly legal for Kaepernick to refuse to stand. It’s also perfectly reasonable to conclude that Kaepernick is a “scruffy-bearded weirdo.”
Kaepernick seems to misunderstand the very meaning of the flag. It isn’t a symbol of everything the government does — good or bad — it’s a symbol of everything this country can be. It’s a symbol of the principles that make this country wonderful. It’s a symbol of a willingness and ability to change, just as Kaepernick wants. It’s a symbol of the only nation in the world in which you can make millions of dollars by throwing a football.
As for Kaepernick’s claims of ‘oppression,’ no one is truly oppressed in this country. For oppressive governments, try Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive cars. Try North Korea, where you are essentially mandated to love your miserable life littered with human rights violations. Try Syria, a country in the midst of a civil war in which ISIS is a belligerent. Try Iran, a state-sponsor of terrorism with a theocratic dictatorship. Try any of the other number of countries that are truly oppressive, like Cuba, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt… and the list goes on.
Who is oppressed in this country? And how? An African-American is President of the United States. Everyone is guaranteed equal justice under the law. Everyone is guaranteed an education. The poor are afforded representation in court. You have the freedom of speech. You have the freedom of association. You can practice whatever religion you choose. You are protected against unlawful searches. You get to choose your representatives. You get to own a gun. You have the right to a trial by jury. You have a right to protest. You can even refuse to stand for the National Anthem. But it doesn’t mean you should.