The following op-ed was written by Kelly Wright, a Learn Liberty employee. It does not reflect the views of Learn Liberty as an institution.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s principled decision to remain seated during the national anthem earlier this summer has sparked a wave of similar protests across the sports world. In addition to NFL players, soccer stars, volleyball players, and even entire high school teams are engaging in protest. Kaepernick cited police brutality as the reason for his protest, claiming that the U.S. has a history of white supremacy and that the principles on which the country was founded have not been consistently applied.
These protests are arising at a time when relations between the citizenry and the government are particularly strained. Americans are reporting record low levels of confidence in their police departments, and movements like Black Lives Matter have grown in popularity in recent years. Predictably, the protests have met considerable criticism.
Critics have, almost on cue (and without a hint of irony), accused Kaepernick of hating America for not pledging appropriate fealty to the state and its symbols. Never mind that what makes America unique is the right to protest and an almost innate skepticism of the government and authority.
Conservatives have engaged in a lot of (sometimes legitimate) handwringing over American hypersensitivity that, they say, leads to people being easily offended. But the controversy surrounding the recent protests reveals that conservatives might have their own sacred cows in the perennial culture wars. Maybe they require trigger warnings before encountering anything critical of the police or U.S. military?
Still, the wave of protests is a necessary and healthy aspect of our democracy. President Obama has even come to Kaepernick’s defense against right-wing critics. It makes sense that a popular NFL player would use his platform to bring attention to an issue he cares about. Protesting and criticizing government is an American ideal that should be encouraged and vigorously defended. Considering the increasing politicization of the NFL, I can’t think of a better venue in which to stage this protest.
Dan Carney really brought the point home in an op-ed in USA Today:
“As recently as the 1990s, when the anthem was played before a game, I can remember turning to a flag flying over the end zone. Today, the flag at an NFL game is almost always marched in by a military honor guard.
At major games, it is not uncommon to have military flyovers at the conclusion of the anthem. And in recent years, I can remember numerous times when members of the military or police were honored before the game or at halftime…In November, a Senate committee revealed that the Pentagon paid various sports teams at least $6.8 million for some of these tributes.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that Kaepernick and other NFL players would pick the anthem as a vehicle for protesting police brutality. They don’t see it so much as a national anthem as a police and military anthem.”
Kaepernick is engaging in a uniquely American way of making his belief’s known. He’s standing up for a cause he believes in, and in doing so he is using his platform and privilege to amplify an important message. For this he should be celebrated and defended, not shouted down and diminished.