“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Those are the words of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he sat during the national anthem in protest during the first pre-season game of 2016. The news of Kaepernick’s protest spread around the country like wild-fire. There was a mixed response around the country, and it didn’t take long for Kaepernick to get death threats. Kaepernick has also gotten a mixed reaction from the commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell.
Goodell stated that, “I support our players when they want to see change in society, and we don't live in a perfect society. We live in an imperfect society. On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that. I think it's important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals.”
The reaction around our school has been very anti-Kaepernick with some sprinkles of support for the quarterback. We decided to interview Richard Harris, the Coordinator of Student Veterans and Military Services at the UW-Whitewater, who also happens to be African-American. We asked Harris how he feels about the protest.
“It’s very personal for me, being an African-American. I feel very strongly about it and I support Kaepernick.” He continued: “I’m proud that I served this country [in the Persian Gulf] and I love this country, but I feel when there is something wrong, we need to fix it.”
When asked if he thinks Kaepernick is disrespecting the flag he responded with, “No, not at all. I hold no grudges against him. He’s not protesting the flag and the US armed forces; he’s protesting the issue of police brutality going on in this country.”
On the other side of the debate is people who see Kaepernick as disrespectful to the flag.
“He’s disrespecting the flag,” a student said who requested to remain anonymous. “He needs to realize that people have given their lives for this country.”
It is nowhere in the constitution or the NFL rule book that anyone has to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. But still Kaepernick comes under scrutiny for his protest. But Kaepernick isn’t the first to protest against the government.
“Kaepernick stepped into a long line of black athletes protesting the government.” Harris says, “Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown: all who are now considered greats.There is nothing wrong with an athlete using his platform to protest.”
But the student I interviewed thinks he’s taking advantage of his platform “He’s getting paid millions of dollars, and this stuff isn’t happening to him. Why does he have to worry about it? This protesting is giving our country a negative image.”
When we asked Richard Harris about the image Kaepernick is giving us his response was different, “110% positive. This country has free speech. I served in Turkey and in Korea where people cannot protest, and if they do, they will feel the wrath of the government. I think Kaepernick is representing us in a positive image by exercising his right of free speech.”
We asked Richard for a final statement, "I think people have a misconception of what we believe in the military. We are apolitical. We want to protect the country for everybody. And I salute Kaepernick for wanting these people to be protected.