For weeks now, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has quietly taken a knee when the national anthem is sung before his NFL games. Kaepernick’s silent protest against police misconduct and racial inequality has been joined by several other NFL players as well as college and even high school-level athletes around the country.
As Rare’s Jack Hunter has previously noted, not everyone is happy with Kaepernick’s method or message. Most recently, that includes President Obama and Sen. Tim Scott (R-N.C.), who both criticized Kaepernick this week. On Wednesday evening Politico reports, Obama had this to say:
“Sometimes out of these controversies, we start getting into a conversation, and I want everybody to listen to each other,” Obama said. “So I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing.”
And on Thursday, the Hill reports, Scott weighed in:
“Our American flag is the greatest representation of what it means — it is the symbol of hope and opportunity for all of us,” Scott said during an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “The fact that we have problems never gives you permission to disrespect our flag.” […]
“Because this country is the beacon of life for all of mankind and anyone that stands up or refuses to stand, I think you’re making a drastic mistake and you’re bringing the focus to you and not to the underlying issue.”
So let’s break this down piece by piece.
First, there’s Obama’s suggestion that people who have lost loved ones in the military or in a police shooting may be offended by Kaepernick’s protest. But Kaepernick has actually demonstrated his concern for military families; in fact, the kneeling posture is specifically designed to show respect.
When Kaepernick began his protests, he simply sat instead of kneeling. But then, Green Beret (and former NFL player) Nate Boyer wrote the quarterback an open letter and explained why that might be hurtful and a distraction from his message.
That prompted a discussion between the two men where they decided kneeling would be a better approach. “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer said. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”
Kaepernick has also explicitly said his protest isn’t meant to comment on the military at all, and certainly not to do so in a disrespectful way.
Boyer’s gracious attitude has been echoed by lots of other veterans and active duty soldiers. Many expressed their support online using a #VeteransForKaepernick hashtag, and even those who disagreed with his message explained that they support his constitutional right to protest.
As for Sen. Scott, his past statements on what it is like to be a black man in America today suggest he can’t be entirely unsympathetic to Kaepernick’s cause.
“I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself,” Scott said, referring to unfair police scrutiny of African Americans.
After telling stories of his own experiences of discrimination from the criminal justice system, Scott added, “I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell, no matter their profession, no matter their income, no matter their disposition in life.”
Colin Kaepernick can probably say the same, which is why it’s so puzzling Scott would critique his silent protest.
Scott argued, “The fact that we have problems never gives you permission to disrespect our flag.” But Kaepernick’s message isn’t one of disrespect for the flag; it’s a statement that the flag currently flies over a criminal justice system that does not live up to the ideals of liberty and justice the flag is supposed to represent.
If anything, that’s a statement of praise for those ideals. It may not be the exact statement Scott and Obama would make, but as so many veterans understand, it’s hardly an occasion for offense.