It’s only slightly ironic that people who celebrate a nation born from protest and rebellion have a problem with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Take exception to The Stamp Act and the crown’s government? Amen, brother. Take a stand against the flag because of inequality and racial injustice? Keep your unpatriotic mouth shut, kind sir.
My biggest issue with Kaep isn’t that he takes a knee during the national anthem but rather that he will make more than $12 million this year and isn’t good at his job. He is taking exception to America while living the American Dream of doing nothing and getting paid well for it.
If anything the Colin Kaepernick “saga” has taught us is that we remain a nation of acceptance in name only, and embrace freedom of speech provided we agree with the position.
Nonetheless, shortly before kickoff Sunday in San Francisco, the national anthem will play and Kaepernick will take to one knee in protest. The Fox cameras will zoom in on Kaep for a few seconds; he will proceed to the bench, the Cowboys will play the 49ers, and we will all move on with the game, and our lives.
Like another mall shooting, most of us are now numb to the national anthem protest movement. And this movement is barely more than a month old. In our current culture with fractured attention spans and corporate-sponsored narcissism, it takes a lot for us to notice any one thing for too long.
They may not like it, or use it, but high-profile athletes have a responsibility to use their platform to raise awareness about societal issues. Our nation’s history says that if you want to get something done, or want light on a topic, you have to use a chainsaw and swing it when people are looking.
Kaep has succeeded in swinging his chainsaw to raise awareness about racial injustice. The problem now for everybody who agrees with his stance is, now what? So we are talking about racial injustice and inequality, but what exactly is being done about it?
The fallout of the kneel-down protest movement has morphed into something not even Kaepernick could have predicted. The result has been an uneven mess of misinterpretations about patriotism rather than freedom of speech and equality, the latter of which has been a myth from its man-made conception in every society.
Keeping this in the world of football, it’s one thing to point out the team can’t score, and it’s quite another to design a play and try to put the ball across the line.
While sports has thankfully moved on from the O.J. Simpson/Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods era of “that’s not my problem” athlete, and much discussion has been led about racial injustice and equality from the likes of Kaepernick, Carmelo Anthony and others, we remain stuck in the chatter phase.
I asked two Dallas Cowboys — safety Byron Jones and defensive lineman Cedric Thornton, both of whom are black — the question of, “What’s next?”
Jones offered the reality: “I couldn’t tell you a single thing we could do as a next step to solve this massive issue in many states throughout America,” he said. “It’s not just one state or a region, it’s nationwide. When guys are taking a knee they are doing it for people who don’t have a voice because they are in a lower socio-economic class. This is good. It’s bringing it to the light. It’s good that athletes are doing it.”
Thornton offered the ideal: “The next step is this — I don’t look at people as black and white,” he said. “I look at all of us as human beings. If I have a problem with you, it’s not because you are white, or black, it’s just because I have a disagreement with you.”
That has been the goal for a long time, and some people, like Thornton, said that’s how he sees the world. But he’s not blind to the reality that racism still breathes. That racial injustice is prevalent.
This is not a right or left talking point but rather a people issue.
In Thornton’s mind, the question comes down to: Can you see a person as a human being rather than the obvious visual point of reference that a man or woman has nothing to do with — the color of their skin?
“I have white friends or black friends — they’re just friends,” he said. “I have a nice truck; it has a 6-inch lift. If I drive by, some people may say, ‘That’s a white boy truck.’ Now, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t get certain looks when I walk into certain places, but I don’t allow anybody to dictate my happiness.”
Good for him.
But here we are — 2016 — and guys like Colin Kaepernick and so many others feel the need to take a knee, to swing a chainsaw, because the problem is still the problem. There has been undeniable progress — look who lives in the White House — but tragic shortcomings remain.
We are talking about a century’s old fight to solve what was, and remains, our nation’s most tragic flaw: Despite laws drafted by a bunch of mostly privileged white guys to encourage equality, America is a stacked deck.
If you can wade through the noise stemming from Kaep’s act of taking a knee, perhaps you can hear the message and then the concern.
And then maybe we can do something about it.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.