Throughout the history of professional sports in America athletes have used their fame and celebrity status as a platform to take a stand for various social and political views. Most recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers stirred up controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem. His explanation after the fact was that he refuses “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Many people have praised him for his boldness while many others have attacked him for disrespecting his own country (or the flag, the anthem, the military, etc.) If nothing else, his actions have added fuel to what seems to be an ongoing public conversation about race and social justice in our nation – and that is certainly a good thing. In the spirit of adding to this conversation, which I believe is critical, I would like to share some thoughts about Kaepernick’s protest.
- Peaceful protest is a valued historic right that we should respect and defend. Regardless of what any one of us thinks about his motivation or form of protest, it is his right. He did nothing illegal, or even immoral for that matter, and we must allow room for people to make their own decisions as to how to exercise their rights.
- The method of protest can overshadow the message. I think that Kaepernick’s method of protest is unfortunate. I’ve already stated that I believe it to be his right, but to meet it seems unwise. I don’t think that sitting down during the national anthem is the best way to get his message out there. Making such a controversial decision has opened the door for a great deal of criticism in regard to his motives. There are some who see this as little more than a spoiled rich kid performing a publicity stunt before he gets cut from his team. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt (which I do) that he is actually concerned with making a difference, it begs the question: “Does this actually make a difference?” Unfortunately, people aren’t talking about the racial and social issues. They’re talking about him and his “disrespect of the flag.” If anything, he seems to have distracted attention from the cause he claims to want to support.
- Disrespect rarely has positive results. This even applies to perceived disrespect. I don’t believe that Kaepernick meant to be disrespectful, but he certainly offended a great many people. Generally, when people feel they have been disrespected they quit listening. They don’t care if you have a good reason. They shut down and go on the defensive – or worse, they attack. When peaceful protest is necessary, we should try our best to do so with respect for others. I think this is particularly true in this case when many of those he offended have literally and physically fought for his right to protest.
- Racism is bigger than disagreeing with someone who happens to be a different color than you. One of the most frustrating things about this incident and others like it is that any and all disagreement gets shot down as racist. You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick and that doesn’t make either of you wrong or racist. In our country, we seem to have reduced racism to agreement or disagreement over issues and this trivializes the real problem of racism.
- We must acknowledge the racial and social problems we are facing. Whatever we think of Kaepernick’s methods, his message is a necessary one. I think we are well past the point where white conservatives can deny that there is a race and social justice problem in this country. That doesn’t mean every white person is to blame or that every person of color is oppressed, but there is definitely a problem and we need to be a part of the conversation and the solution.
Regardless of what you might think of Kaepernick and his protest, you should consider the issues that have led him to it. Particularly those within the church must rise up and consider the problems of racism and social injustice. The gospel is a message of freedom and equality. We are all equally sinful and we are all equally free to accept Christ. In Him, there are no divisions along racial and social grounds. We should be leading the charge for justice, not blindly turning from the problem and denying it exists. We must enter kindly with open-mind into the discussion. We must listen to those who have been oppressed. We must release our pride and humble ourselves to consider how we contribute to the problem. The solution will not be quick or easy and the journey may look different for each of us, but ultimately we must each heed God’s words from Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”