Public Reaction ≠ Policy Action

The Flaws of Kaepernick’s Protest

Eric Reid (35) and Colin Kaepernick (7) take a knee during the National Anthem before their first game of the season.

Daniel Gluskoter/AP Images for Panini

Eric Reid (35) and Colin Kaepernick (7) take a knee during the National Anthem before their first game of the season.

Megan Munce, Assistant Online Editor

Colin Kaepernick’s knee did not simply shift the turf beneath him; it effectively divided a nation on public opinion of protests.

In a movement that began during preseason, the 49ers’ backup quarterback has begun to kneel during the national anthem during games, telling NFL Media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

In the weeks following the incident, several other players and individuals have either flocked to Kaepernick’s defense, arguing his right to freedom of speech, or fought his protest as untimely and disrespectful.

While many criticisms of him argue about the minute details of the protest itself, the larger issue at hand is the way we deal with protests in America.

We as teenagers especially fall into a pattern of “slacktivism,” or believing that simply retweeting a photo of a starving child will somehow end world hunger. While in a sense this does raise awareness for social issues, it often leads people to feel as if their part has been done and there is no further action required, which weakens movements and trivializes them. After all, other than kneeling during the anthem and making a pledge to donate $1 million of his $11.9 million salary to community charities, has Kaepernick spurred any tangible action or reform?

Furthermore, the timing and means of the protest are not ideal. Kaepernick, a backup quarterback in the midst of a shaky season, and who has had a negative relationship with his management in the past, has been accused of initiating the protest in order to redirect attention back to himself.

His mode of protest is similarly flawed, as there is no clear correlation between racial injustice and the national anthem when taken out of context from Kaepernick’s comments. The simplicity of Kaepernick’s protest fails to acknowledge the enormity of the issue at hand and disrespects the severity of the negative impacts of racial inequality in America.

While revolutionary in a contemporary context, Kaepernick is far from the first athlete to bring advocacy into his or her athletics. During the Vietnam War, boxer Muhammed Ali expressed his religiously influenced anti-war sentiment by refusing to participate in the draft. His protest also included racial undertones.

The difference between these two lies in the way Ali made sacrifices to enforce his cause, risking jail time and becoming one of the most polarizing figures of his time, while Kaepernick has faced little to no real repercussions for his actions.  

In modern times, groups such as Black Lives Matter that advocate awareness paired with nonviolent protests are much more effective and deserve more media attention than the Kaepernick debacle that has flooded news and sports networks alike in the previous weeks.

While the penetration of social justice issues into other spheres such as athletics indicates a positive commitment to social reform,  the more prevalent issue behind this protest is the way we as Americans tend to ignore larger issues such as racial inequality in favor of honing in on criticisms of specific individuals.

Rather than the revolutionary social stance that many herald it to be, Kaepernick’s protest is ultimately a prime example of how Americans shift focus away from legitimate movements fueled by the common people in order to further capitalize on either glamorizing or criticizing the lives of the rich and famous.

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