Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Colin Kaepernick sitting for the national anthem before NFL games. He told the media it was in protest of police brutality and that he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
He also said: “When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent … I’ll stand.”
He never did. Not the entire season. His team had a lousy year, he got benched, and in the off-season, he opted to become a free agent.
No one has hired him.
Football is again in its early season stages, and a few other players, including Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett, are again making headlines by choosing to sit for the anthem.
“We’re fighting for what America is built on,” Bennett told the media. “That’s the freedom, the equality, the justice for all and the liberty, and those are the things that I’m actually trying to remember and honor when I sit down.”
Funny. That’s what others honor by standing up.
Reason to stand or sit?
I was not keen on Kaepernick’s protest. And I’m not on Bennett’s. Not because they don’t have the right to do it. Of course they do. And respectful minds can disagree on any subject.
But the very purpose Bennett stated is, to me, more reason to stand than to sit.
If you think the country can be better, stand for the ideal. If you think the answer is people showing unity, stand with them. The anthem is not the national police song. The anthem is not the national racists song. The anthem is an exercise in how this country can endure and rise, how we can agree on its future potential, even while struggling with its present.
The anthem’s words depict a flag that is suffering through bombs and rockets. You could easily view those bombs and rockets as the challenges our democracy faces today, and the flag a symbol of rising above them.
Instead, some NFL players choose to hijack the moment at an entertainment event. It’s a rather simple form of protest, a minute out of a game they’re already attending, and for which they’re being well paid, to use media that is there for another purpose.
On the effort scale, it’s not exactly travelling to a foreign country and joining a hunger strike against tyranny.
More unity; less divisiveness
Still, sitting for the anthem remains a player’s right. But not a guarantee. Bennett, conveniently, signed a three-year, $31.5-million contract extension nine months ago, which assures him at least $17.5 million.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, is without a job.
His supporters say this is punishment for his stand. And I agree, he would likely be employed today, as a back-up quarterback, had he never done what he did. But the same can be said of many players who teams view as “too much drama, not enough return.”
Kaepernick, remember, didn’t just sit for the anthem. He wore socks depicting police as pigs. He called for the dismantling of the justice system. He tweeted out an image of a slave catcher badge and a police officer’s badge with the text, “Always remember who they are.”
In NFL stadiums, where police are regularly employed, that’s not going to sit well.
On top of this, Kaepernick didn’t bother to vote in the 2016 election, saying it didn’t matter who was president because “the system remains intact.”
Given recent events, how smart does that apathy look?
So NFL teams have every right to avoid him, and you have every right not to buy tickets, and on and on, every right, every right, and where does it get us?
We keep hearing about our need for “dialogue.” But some would argue dialogue is the one thing we are not short on. What we are short on is listening. Stepping over hate. Striving towards an actual unity now, not one that you will participate in when and if you get what you want.
Today’s NFL players were not born when the American flag was lifted at Iwo Jima. They were children when it was hoisted atop the rubble of the World Trade Center. Perhaps they lack context of what it symbolizes.
Here’s an idea. You want to make a statement during the anthem? How about one hand over your heart and another holding the hand of a teammate? That shows unity and respect.
Because, while no one should argue the freedom to express ourselves, we are now entering the sophomore year of football anthem protests. And if they were supposed to improve things, they have not. Maybe more unity and less divisiveness might.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.