When San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem, he became both a hero and a villain. How dare him use this American tradition to protest the killing of unarmed black men by police! Shouldn’t he just stick to football and leave activism to others?
The good thing about America is everyone is entitled to their opinion and should have the right to protest. So when Kaepernick stated that he would continue to sit down until he sees progress in race relations, everyone from his fellow team mates and coaches to sports commentators used their right to free speech as well. Should a millionaire football player just stay in his lane, be quiet and be grateful for the opportunity he has been given?
And what about Olympic gold medalist and gymnastics star Gabby Douglas? She was called out on social media for not putting her hand over her heart during the national anthem. Never mind that she stood silently and respectfully with her team mates during the observance. Never mind that nothing was said about other Olympians who committed the same “offense.” Shot put athletes Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, gold and silver medalists respectively, both failed to put their hands over their hearts as the American flag was raised and the national anthem was performed.
When pressed for an explanation, Douglas innocently replied, “I don't put my hand on my heart during the national anthem, either. I never have. I didn't even know that was ‘a thing,’ actually.”
Kaepernick being half black and half Italian and adopted, added more fuel to the firestorm of public opinion. His biological mom Heidi Russo strongly disagreed with him on Twitter and some said she gave up her right to have an opinion when she gave him up for adoption. Ouch!
The football star’s adoptive mom, Teresa Kaepernick told USA Today in a 2012 interview: “When we adopted him, I bought some books from the library on raising children from another race, but what it all came down to was common sense more than anything.”
While many feel Kaepernick’s refusal to stand is un-American, expressing his right to free speech is pure Americanism. But there is one Black American who boldly challenged observing the national anthem against the backdrop of racial injustice at a time when there were still separate bathrooms in America for “whites” and “coloreds.”
In his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball, wrote “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
Is it disrespectful not to stand, sing or put your hand over your heart during the national anthem? This is a question that all Americans must answer for themselves. With all the hateful rhetoric being expressed. we all need to respect our country and each other, and that means respecting our right and the rights of others to express their opinions. It’s not so much what you do, but how you do it.