If you’re exposed to any sort of sports media, you’ll know that Colin Kaepernick has been sitting down during the National Anthem. If you hadn’t noticed yet notice, you’re not alone. The backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers sat quietly during the first two games of the NFL preseason. It wasn’t until the third game that a huge wave of controversy about his choice of posture during the recital of the Star Spangled Banner.
Kaepernick has publicly explained his choice to sit. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s non-violent protest has provoked much conversation. He has drawn support from fellow professional football players such as Arian Foster of the Miami Dolphins, among others.
He has also drawn criticism, to varying extremes. Pastor Allen Joyner, a football announcer at McKenzie High School in Butler County, Alabama that anyone wishing to sit during the national anthem should be lined up on the far fence of the stadium and and shot by military personnel. According to social media reports of the event, the McKenzie high fans erupted in applause.
On November 3rd, 2013, eight people were tied to posts at Shinpoong Stadium in Wonsan, North Korea and shot to death by military personnel for minor crimes, including watching South Korean television programs and being in possession of a bible. North Korea has published pictures showing massive displays of patriotism and national pride in that stadium. What unspeakable crimes would be committed against dissenters during the recital of the North Korean national anthem?
Sporting events in the United States have long been a major symbol of national pride. The first NFL Sunday football this year fell on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Both President Obama and former President George W. Bush were featured in videos played in the stadiums and on national television, saying that Sundays are a time for football, but also took pause for those lives lost 15 years ago.
It was football, above anything else, that provided the presidential platform for conveying the memory of the biggest national tragedy of the century to the public. Sports undoubtedly serve as a rostrum for patriotism in this country. If these displays of pride are to mean anything more than North Korea’s, we must allow dissent. Otherwise, we are merely being coerced into being pawns in someone else’s game.