Colin Kaepernick made a bold statement by sitting during the national anthem in protest to ongoing social and racial issues in our country. His actions enraged and continue to enrage many people in this country. In his post-game interview, Kaepernick said he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He later adjusted his protest from sitting to kneeling during the national anthem to donating $1 million to charities that help communities in need due partially to a candid conversation and dialogue with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk. He vowed to not stand during the anthem until he is “proud of his nation once more.” As a result a few other athletes have joined in the non-violent protest while simultaneously enraging patriotic people in our country. Nate Boyer did his part to ensure Kaepernick’s message wasn’t completely lost due to an inflammatory action that represents our nation. Yet the fact that Kaepernick donated $1 million this year to charities that help communities is partially clouded by the fact that he takes a knee during the national anthem, a symbol with deep passion for many.
At the end of the day, does his protest help affect positive change? Do his actions help heal race relations in our country or further damage them by feeding into an already existing racial prejudice and in our country? What are these 17+ athletes providing as a potential fix to the problem affecting our nation?
Although I understand the intent of Kaepernick’s message, his actions do very little to highlight the oppression of black people in our country. However, his and the other protesters’ actions distract from the message they are trying to relay by timing it during the national anthem. We have a saying while making decisions when analyzing missions and planning for future events: What is the second and third-order effect of a decision? How will this decision affect what we are trying to accomplish? In part, it appears Kaepernick’s actions are furthering the gap of division in our country rather than healing the racial and social injustice he’s hoping to highlight.
No one can or should deny Kaepernick’s constitutional right to protest the way he is. That’s part of what makes our country great. However, if exercising your constitutional right has the consequence of furthering the divide you are attempting to bridge, I offer the actions are short sighted and distract us from the true problem. If you want to change the way rogue police officers treat a segment of our society, wearing socks with cartoon police officer pigs is probably not the best way. These actions continue to fuel hate and disrespects police officers, the majority of whom protect and serve with distinct honor and selflessness. There are rogue and ill-intended people in every profession. However there are many, many more who are doing the right thing to support and defend us all.
Take Officer Joshua Scaglione, a Detroit, Michigan police officer who after pulling over LaVonte Dell for his windows being too dark in April this year, noticed Mr. Dell’s three year old daughter without a car seat. After asking why his daughter was not in a car seat, Mr. Dell explained his financial challenges and personal struggles. Rather than igniting a disrespectful interchange and making matters worse, Dell was honest, open, and genuine. As a result, instead of giving him a ticket and making Officer Scaglione asked Mr. Dell to follow him to Wal-Mart. When they arrived, the Officer took him inside and purchased him a pink car seat, Dell’s daughter’s favorite color. Scaglione asked for nothing in return. He related to and empathized with Mr. Dell’s challenges. As a result of his random act of kindness, he earned the respect of Mr. Dell by providing a solution to his fellow man’s problem.
This had nothing to do with race. Rather, this had everything to do with loving others. I wonder how Officer Scaglione, an honorable man feels when seeing a professional athlete like Kaepernick wearing socks that disrespect and detract from the good things some police officers do. The media and people in our nation have responded talked for weeks about the protest rather than the message they are trying to relay.
If we do want to change social and racial injustice, what is the best way to accomplish the end goal? When counseling my junior officers, I often tell them, “Don’t bring a problem without a potential solution.” If they do that, it shows me they have thought about the problem, analyzed the problem, and came up with possible solutions. It’s part of their essential development as an officer. I don’t want to always give them the answers to the question without knowing they have exhausted their own resources or experience to come up with an answer. Otherwise, the junior leader will expect the easy way out or a handout every time. That does not build critical-thinking, creative, and determined officers. We want officers that relentlessly pursue solutions to complex problems. When they hit a brick wall with their solution, I want them to find a way around, over, or through that wall to accomplish the mission. If the goals of the protests are to change social and racial injustice, are they identifying the symptom or the disease?
When medics and doctors treat diseases, they identify the symptoms one by one and provide a potential treatment. If we truly want to change racial injustice, oppression, corruption in politics, we must do our own individual part to first be the change we are looking for, rather than just making a controversial, inflammatory action. As a white, middle class male, I will never know what it is like to deal with the challenges of some blacks in our country. However in order to truly treat the disease, each one of us has to do our individual part to be part of the change we are hoping to accomplish. Often times when we say, “it’s them,” that’s the problem, we fail to realize, we are not doing our own part to be part of the positive change we are trying to achieve. This change begins with each and every one of us.
Part of the problem in our nation is not solely oppression of black people or racism. Those are simply the symptoms of a greater disease. The disease of oppression, racism, social injustice, and ultimately sin is in the heart of man. Actions like Kaepernick’s only further the symptoms rather than heal the underlying disease. The ignorant San Francisco 49ers fan that burned Kaepernick’s jersey and called him a dumb n-word did nothing but show his own ignorance and racial prejudice rather than positively addressing the underlying issue as Nate Boyer did with his open letter to Kaepernick. That 49er fan made the symptom worse. Nate Boyer helped bridge the gap and did his part to treat the disease.
Kaepernick and other protesters think they are doing their part take a stance for a real issue in our country. If nothing else, Kaepernick’s actions have ignited a conversation. But has he or any of the other protesters stopped to think about whether or not their message is getting lost in their method protest rather than actually affecting positive social change? I do believe he has the best intentions. He should be using his platform as an athlete to be the change. However, his method for doing it could be better approached by not spotlighting himself while simultaneously taking focus away from his team and distracting from an event that is about much more than the individual.
The Denver Broncos players and anyone else that take a knee, sit or stand daydreaming into the distance during the national anthem are just as wrong as Kaepernick. I have not seen anyone burn Jared Crick (93), Billy Winn (97), and Adam Gotsis (99) for their disrespect. I see three different races equally disrespecting a solemn symbol for our nation at a time that is sacred and stirs many feelings, memories, and emotions for me and many others that have fought in our nation’s wars. Yet, the media doesn’t call them to the carpet for their slightly less-blatant disrespect.
The national anthem is a moment of unity and remembrance for me no matter what our beliefs. It is a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come. It is a moment to think of all the brothers in arms I’ve gone to war with, some of which were lost defending our country. It doesn’t say we’ve made it. It doesn’t deny there are dark moments in our history. Yet, we are where we are as a nation partially due to the adversity we have worked so hard together to never do again.
Protesting in the middle of something that means so much to so many people points the spotlight directly on the individual what we haven’t done, rather than celebrating what we have done and what we as a nation have fought through for over 238 years. We have fought to be by the people and for the people. We have fought to be unified under a symbol, a flag that represents all colors, creeds, and nationalities. The flag represents those who are here and live in those very freedoms. It also represents those who have fought and died for our freedom. It is a symbol not just for all of us, but of all of us.
The flag and the national anthem do not represent perfection. Our nation’s history is anything but perfect. Even now, years after civil rights and now the first Black President in our history, our nation is not perfect and never will be. However, our ideals, our fight, our never quit, never-say-never grit is what made us leave tyranny to start our own nation in the first place. The flag doesn’t deny racism still exists in the heart of some. It doesn’t deny there are issues. Rather, it represents what we should be and still can be. But it begins with me. It begins with you. It begins with we the people. For we the people have to be the change before the radicals, the bigots, the dissenters, the racists, the haters, the homophobes, xenophobes, baskets of deplorables, and hate-filled Americans will change their actions and return to part of what makes this nation great: our diversity and unity of purpose.
Change begins with each of us. It begins with us not just pointing out the problem, rather coming together to come up with viable, achievable solutions to problems that affect our nation. Maybe then and only then will the true message we are trying to achieve not be drowned out be ill-timed protests. Kaepernick ignited a conversation but the conversation is not even about the message he and the other protesters are trying to convey. I remember my football coaches saying, “You play on Saturdays like you practice during the week.” I wonder if we start practicing pointing out the good things people do rather than the negative, could we ignite a fire of change we really hope to accomplish in our society?
The views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.
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