Ilustration: Dianne Huang
Kaepernick takes a stand… or rather, a knee… against oppression.
On Oct. 16, 2016, during the National Anthem before a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills, most people rose in their seat, removing their hats and saluting the flag. Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback, didn’t. Instead, he kneeled on the field until the anthem was over.
Outrage ensued. Although Kaepernick was protected under the First Amendment, people were offended that he wasn’t honoring the country, the troops, and the people. People were furious: insulting Kaepernick on social media, calling him unpatriotic, even a Nazi. But Kaepernick says it would be foolish for him not to do something about the violence and discrimination against African Americans.
“I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told the NFL in an interview.
Protests against the oppression of African Americans have happened across the United States in recent years: people have marched, blocked off roads, taken stands on social media, and boycotted the Oscars. But, a protest so public and on the platform of an NFL game was unprecedented.
Through his actions, Kaepernick knowingly took a gamble with his football career.
“I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” he said.
“If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know I stood up for what’s right.”
Senior Hana Martinez thinks that kneeling is a clear act of protest against the United States.
“I think it symbolized the lack of protection black people are receiving from the United States criminal justice system,” Martinez said.
Kaepernick hasn’t faced more than disapproval from some of the public.
The 49ers released this statement: “In respecting such American principles such as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Similarly, the NFL released the following in response to Kaepernick’s actions.
“Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”
Kaepernick’s kneel has inspired many more athletes to kneel as well. Many other NFL players have either knelt down or raised a fist in protest. So have high school students. In a recent Wolfpack game, player Roger Martinez kneeled while honoring the flag.
Although resulting in backlash, Kaepernick’s actions have spread to other big league teams, to smaller high school teams, to students who may not even follow or play sports.
“The National Anthem literally states ‘the land of the free’, but by kneeling, he’s saying ‘we are not free’,” Hana Martinez said.
“It’s a really powerful message for me and I know a lot of people are following it. That should be their decision. Anyone saying it’s unpatriotic is contradicting themselves because America is supposed to be all about individual rights,” Hana Martinez.
By using his First Amendment rights to ask for a better America for people of color, Kaepernick clearly makes a difference staying down to stand up for what he believes in.