Colin Kaepernick is hardly the first to protest during the national anthem, and he certainly hasn’t received the most blow-back of the Star-Spangled dissenters. Just thirteen rounds of Summer Olympic Games ago marked one of the most politically significant protests ever held during the recital of America’s national anthem.
Following the final of the Men’s 200-meter dash, new world record holder and gold medalist Tommie Smith, along with bronze-winning teammate John Carlos accepted thier medals on the podium. Both men held their shoes in their hands and wore only black stockings on their feet to symbolize solidarity with the impoverished in America. Tommy wore a black scarf around his neck to symbolize the extralegal executions suffered by the black community in the building of the United States nation. Both men wore black leather gloves, with fists raised high over their bowed heads as Old Glory was raised and the national anthem played.
The nine old men in charge of the International Olympic Committee, then presided by Detroit-born Avery Brundage, felt that the inclusion of domestic politics to the Olympic stage was immature behavior. Swiftly and surely, the U.S.O.C. stripped the men of their Olympic Village credentials, and thus were ordered to leave Mexico within 48 hours. It is worth noting that Mr. Brundage applied the same logic of separation of state and sport by refusing to support a U.S. boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
After being sent home, Tommie Smith spoke out about why he chose to protest. “I wasn’t going to stand there with my hand on my heart while they played my country’s national anthem and then go back to life as a second-class citizen.”
John Carlos commented on the role Black athletes have in American society. “We feel that White people think we’re just animals to do a job. We saw White people in the stands putting thumbs down at us. We want them to know we’re not roaches, ants or rats.”
On Saturday, September 17, 2016, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review published an editorial called “For the Separation of Stadium and State.” In it, he accuses Kaepernick of “[offering] a blanket indictment of America itself and vow[ing] to hold his compliance hostage to his personal assessment of complicated social issues. That’s not in a quarterback’s job description any more than it is in a plumber’s.” Goldberg is among good company of opinion writers upset with the recent infusion of “politics” into the sacred game of American Football.
Even so, it’s almost as if Goldberg counter-argued Carlos’ point 48 years later. He further stated, “My point is not that the issues athletes care about are illegitimate. Kaepernick is right that some issues are ‘bigger than football’ — but that is an argument for keeping them out of football!”
Right, Mr. Goldberg. O mighty NFL, please forbid anything that might reflect upon the state of our nation during the national anthem. If not on the athletic field, is there another location outside of the stadium that you would like Mr. Kaepernick to protest the racial disparities in this country, so that you might more easily ignore him?