Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the US national anthem in a National Football League (NFL) pre-season game Friday to protest racial injustice has the web divided.
Teammates, league officials, and some columnists praised the San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s courage. But, other athletes and fans lambasted Mr. Kaepernick for disrespecting those who have sacrificed their lives, citing Kaepernick’s $19 million average yearly salary.
Sports columnist Ian O’Connor, in his celebration on ESPN.com of Kaepernick’s actions, wrote the mixed response the quarterback has received is a window into the state of the country.
An unscientific survey of Twitter reaction from players, fans and observers offered more evidence that the country is divided, perhaps still broken, along racial lines. This emerged as the one undisputed truth about a story that will have legs as long as the quarterback doesn't use his during the pregame anthem:
Kaepernick is a 28-year-old biracial man who was raised by the white parents who adopted him, and who believes he can no longer remain silent in a country where young, black men are too often shot by overheated cops, and where blacks are forever asked by whites to rise above obstacles that whites themselves created.
Before the start of the pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers Friday, Kaepernick sat on the bench during "The Star Spangled Banner” rather than stand attention alongside his teammates. After Pro Football Talk first reported Kaepernick sat during the anthem, the quarterback explained himself in an interview with 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," Kaepernick said after the game. "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 said he wasn’t afraid of any repercussions.
“If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed.”
The NFL issued a statement that said players are encouraged but not required to stand during the national anthem.
The team and its head coach, Chip Kelly, respected Kaepernick’s decision.
"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony," the 49ers said in a statement. "In respecting such American principles 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."
Much of Twitter didn’t agree. Many said Kaepernick acted insensitively and is unpatriotic. Some current and former athletes touched on the heart of those reactions.
Kaepernick isn’t the first NFL player to use the game to make a statement about the Black Lives Matter movement. Two seasons ago, Reggie Bush, a player on the Detroit Lions, wrote on a warm up T-shirt “I can’t breathe,” in reference to Garner’s final words before he died in police custody. The same season, players on the St. Louis Rams entered the stadium for a home game with their hands raised, referencing the “Hands up, don’t shoot” slogan of protesters in nearby Ferguson, Mo. But, a political statement during the national anthem has historically touched a nerve for many.
That was the response National Basketball Association (NBA) player Mahmoud Abdul Rauf received when he refused to stand attention during “The Star Spangled Banner” before a game in 1996.
The Mississippi born Mr. Abdul Rauf, who changed his name from Chris Jackson when he converted to Islam, said the anthem is a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny.” The Denver Nuggets player received death threats, and set off protests directed against Muslims in the Denver area.
After the NBA first suspended Abdul Rauf, he and the league reached an agreement: he would pray to Allah silently during the anthem.
Another NFL player, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles, has been outspoken about the racial injustices he sees, but doesn’t see sitting as the right way for Kaepernick to stand up for this cause.
I think everybody is going to talk about how him making the money that he does as an NFL player and basically kind of shaming the flag or whatever, shaming the country, is unpatriotic. You talk about troops and being able to honor that. That's what's going to get talked about, and not the lives that have been lost across the country, the injustices that are being done to people and minorities all across this country.
Me not standing for the national anthem isn’t going to get the results that I want. I’d rather be doing something in the community, taking to people who can make some change. That’s just my approach.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.