Does Anyone Owe Colin Kaepernick An Apology?
So we should have known with the current events of social unrest, righteous demands for justice about police misconduct, daily viral videos of police brutality, and the seemingly snail crawl of justice in cases like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, that old related controversies would arise. The additional layer of Covid-19 stripping away outlets and release valves like simply going out, group activities, and sports, just makes it worse. Especially sports, which in recent years has taken on a role as cultural laboratory where folks can cross all sorts of streams like social issues, media coverage, and politics just to see what happens without the pesky permanence of lawmaking or, theoretically, the normal average American getting too hurt by it.
So of course with social justice on everyone’s mind, and no sports going on, once again Colin Kaepernick is back in the headlines, this time with New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees making comments that now have him putting out his second official apology in as many days.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees — who apologized on social media in a statement Thursday for his national anthem comments in the wake of George Floyd’s death — expressed his sorrow verbally in an Instagram post later in the day.
“I know there’s not much that I could say that would make things any better right now,” Brees said in the video. “But I just want you to see in my eyes how sorry I am for the comments that I made yesterday. I know they hurt many people, especially friends, teammates, former teammates, loved ones, people that I care and respect deeply.”
Brees — who struck a nerve with his comments on Wednesday about how kneeling during the national anthem is “disrespecting the flag” — said it was never his intention to be hurtful.
“I wish I would have laid out what was on my heart in regards to the George Floyd murder, Ahmaud Arbery, the years and years of social injustice, police brutality and the need for so much reform and change in regards to legislation and so many other things to bring equality to our black communities,” Brees said.
“I’ll just speak on the Drew Brees thing really quickly – he’s a really good dude, man. He does a lot for the city of New Orleans … Even what he said in his response, well, he said what he said, so I don’t know what he meant exactly. But I absolutely don’t think he meant to ostracize himself or make this issue about something that it’s not,” Nate Boyer told San Diego’s 97.3 The Fan. “I also understand what he was talking about in the other part of that video when the anthem plays, because I feel the same way. And that’s not a bad thing to feel patriotic. It’s not a bad thing to love your country and want to stand with your hand on your heart. But if other people don’t feel the same way, it’s just that acknowledgement and understanding that, ‘Hey, I’ll stand for you, and until you feel that way, maybe you shouldn’t. But when you do, I’m looking forward to the day that you feel the same way that I do and I’ll keep fighting to make it happen until that day comes’.”
Why quote Nate Boyer? Because he started a lot of this.
Lost to many is the genesis of the anthem controversy that Colin Kaepernick kicked off, not with an explosion of controversy, but with nobody at all noticing. Kaepernick had started sitting for the national anthem during the first two preseason games in August of 2016, but nobody really noticed — much less cared — until a photo of the 49ers bench started circulating showing him doing so during the third game. It was then that Kaepernick was asked what exactly it was he was doing, along with comments by the NFL and 49ers.
“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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview 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.”
The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. 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.”
Niners coach Chip Kelly told reporters Saturday that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem is “his right as a citizen” and said “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”
The NFL also released a statement, obtained by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”
That brought about Boyer, an Army veteran, activist, and former NFL player, to write an open letter on the subject. Kaepernick saw it, and the two met and had a discussion. “We were talking to [Boyer] about how can we get the message back on track and not take away from the military, not take away from fighting for our country, but keep the focus on what the issues really are,” Kaepernick explained about their 90 minute conversation, which ended with Boyer being invited to the next 49ers game on Sept 1. “And as we talked about it, we came up with taking a knee. Because there are issues that still need to be addressed and it was also a way to show more respect to the men and women who fight for this country.”
So it came about during the September 1st game, three weeks after Kaepernick first started his protest, that he along with teammate Eric Reid took a knee for the national anthem. He got the attention he wanted. There is no need to rehash all that followed, from President Trump latching on to the issue, to the domination of sports talk, to the apparent end of Kaepernick’s NFL career soon after. All the particulars such as incendiary rhetoric, the now-infamous “pig socks”, the calls for boycotting the NFL and later Nike for their endorsements of Kaepernick, and so on became one giant mess that when viewed from a distance became a Rorschach test. A test whose spectrum of hot takes ranged from those [denouncing the American-hating, vet disrespecting, spoiled rich players on one extreme and the people who clearly hated everyone if they didn’t out-protest the next person on the other and a wide spectrum in between.
So now four years later, with the entire nation focused on the issue of police brutality through recent events, plenty are calling for a re-examining of Kaepernick’s protest. Including our friend Kimberly Ross, writing in Arc:
When NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in protest during the national anthem in 2016, I was slightly appalled: He lives in the greatest country in the world and enjoys the pleasures of a well-paying profession. Yet he chooses to disrespect the flag and those who fought and died for him?! The nerve.
Those feelings simmered. They stayed with me for a while.
But Kaepernick was right to bring light to the situation of police brutality directed at black Americans. No, I don’t agree with his “pig cop” socks (he reportedly stated they were only “meant to represent rogue cops”). No, I don’t personally agree with disrespecting the flag, though doing so is protected by the First Amendment. But the message of enough is enough? Using his platform for a public display?
Why shouldn’t black Americans — who feel helpless and enraged when they see the obvious disparity in treatment by law enforcement — peacefully protest by kneeling?…
…So my apologies, Colin Kaepernick. You weren’t wrong for shining a spotlight on injustice. You used the platform at your disposal and, with a calm, peaceful action, sent a message.
Many Americans, including me, didn’t want to hear it. I think more get it now.
I also apologize for my rush to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with “but all lives matter!” Responding that way sounds like a refusal to admit there’s a problem.
Of course every life matters. I’m a staunch member of the pro-life community. I understand that well. But if some lives are treated like they matter less, fighting to fix that is how we uphold the principle that all lives matter.
So who, if anyone, owes Colin Kaepernick an apology, like our friend feels she does? Does anything else need re-examined from the anthem controversy in light of recent events? Did the storm in the stadium pre-games matter at all?
Depends. Yes. Maybe.
Colin Kaepernick is a smart guy, and was aware of what his protest might cost him. He is, as of this writing, apparently done with NFL football most out of ownership not wanting the headache of having the league’s most famous activist as a distraction. He will be ok, between his activism work, his lucrative Nike endorsement deal, and his settlement with the NFL, Kaep may not have his playing gig but won’t be missing any meals and has continued to follow the path he chose of activism. You can see the worthiness of his cause and still see the errors, both tactical and of messaging, he made along the way. You can — as many have — just see the kneeling as hating America and ignore all the rest of it as irrelevant to that perceived sin against the civic religion of patriotism. But even if you detest everything about Kaepernick from his message to how he delivered it, four years on and as we have a national debate on police brutality while it is happening in the streets in real time, not conceding he brought attention to it is just being obtuse.
Does that entitle Kaepernick to anything? That’s up to the individual. If, like Kimberly Ross, the current crisis of police brutalizing citizens in the streets causes you to reflect on the thoughts and feelings you had about a quarterback kneeling in a stadium for the National Anthem to highlight that very issue, then perhaps you should apologize. If you heard him out, gave the message a fair hearing even if you didn’t like the delivery method, and kept your bearing when folks who can’t be bothered to darken the door of their local VA hospital insisted it was an affront to every veteran ever for all eternity, you may not. If you realized waving the very symbols of our freedom at people as a threat for them to not exercise that freedom is grosser than your feelings getting hurt for three minutes, maybe you have some more reflecting to do.
Maybe while reflecting on such things you can think through a few others, like how the NFL pays for and uses patriot imagery as part of their marketing plan. How the DOD pays for that privilege. How so many NFL players who have made it to fame and fortune would like wider swaths of their communities that do not have elite athletic ability to get a fairer shake in the world. How politicians love to use the flag, anthem, and anything else that is an ordinance of the civic religion of patriotism to try and whip up emotions for their own purposes and power. How folks insist others not feeling exactly how they do about a song or symbol means they are disrespecting veterans, when even a sliver of that same anger channeled at a VA Healthcare system that has scandal after scandal of actually killing veterans might do far more good than earning attaboys from social media tribes for your star-spangled denunciations of “them over there”.
Would more notice of the protests by Kaepernick and others four years ago and since have prevented the George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, and so many others since then we could name? Who knows. I doubt it. These inflection points in history come right when they are supposed to, with multiple factors meeting together to cause the moments that change our lives. Maybe I’m naïve, or super biased, or in the small minority, though, in thinking that way. After all, the only time I know of that I ever knelt for the flag was to secure the straps tying down the transfer cases 1 to the floor of the aircraft to send human remains of service members home. Everything has to be just so, perfectly done, no mistakes, right down to how the flag is secured to the top. It’s the least you can do at that point.
Real life is never perfectly done, with no mistakes, right down to how we treat our flag, and anthem, and each other. Colin Kaepernick had the freedom to use his platform as he saw fit. The NFL had the freedom to react to it. All the rest of us had the freedom to comment and wage internet war over it. Despite those online words, the NFL today has never been more popular, Nike still sells plenty of shoes, and Kaepernick once again has a high profile platform to push his causes. Speaking only for myself, I’ll not be kneeling again for the flag, or Anthem, or for anything else other than prayer, and certainly not for someone to take a picture or derive some meaning from me doing so. I suspect we will have a large group of athletes once again kneeling when sports do return, as we have seen protesters, politicians, social media folks, and even some police doing. I will be writing, using the platform I have to talk about what is going on, and judging things as best I can with as much discernment as I can muster. Lay before me an injustice and as best I can I will get to the truth of it and honestly fight for who is right in that circumstance. That is what I can do. That is what I must do.
I don’t owe Colin Kaepernick an apology any more than he owes me any explanation as to why he is doing what he is doing. Both can be judged on their own merits — good and bad — as it should be. I heard him out, and despite not liking some of the particulars of how it went down and disagreeing to some of his stated solutions, the actual cause he touts is a just one. He certainly doesn’t need my opinion or approval to pursue his chosen path. To disagree with parts of things, agree with others, and actually take the time to notice nuances 240 character tweets and hot takes don’t allow for is the messy, imperfect, mistake-filled way a free society works out its issues. Maybe we all just take a moment next time someone demands our attention in an uncomfortable and imperfect way, and think through why they take that extreme measure rather than just knee-jerk reacting to the manner they do so. Maybe we can spend 4 minutes of humility to avert 4 years of pain and suffering.
But I doubt it. Too easy to just project our priors on the non-conformist who interrupts our civic ritual of pregame and mash send to feel better for 20 seconds. Then forget it by kickoff.
Till the next time, anyway.
- Transfer cases are the metal boxes containing the remains of service members from overseas you see carried off the aircraft with flags on top during ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base. Dover has the military’s Mortuary Affairs, and it is there they will get processed and released to families and traditional caskets, or whatever other arrangements are made.