Why the protest actions of Kaepernick and co. are correct, and why their critics are wrong
San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the National Anthem.
As the Colin Kaepernick-inspired protest of The Star-Spangled Banner continues to grow in size, from the NFL down to college, women’s soccer, and even down to the high school level, a sizable backlash against these actions has formed among fans, coaches, politicians, and commentators (eg. Clay Travis, Tomi Lahren, Allen Joyner, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Kate Upton, Don Cherry, John Tortorella, Milo Yiannopoulos, Bill O’Reilly, Brian Kilmeade) — mostly from those who support Trump and/or have reactionary/conservative views on race relations. Conversely, these actions have been applauded by people who believe in fairness and decency in society (eg. Daily Kos alumnus Shaun King, Chuck Modi, Dave Zirin, Charles Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Jim Brown, Harry Belafonte, Stephen Curry, Michael Eric Dyson, President Barack Obama, Adam Jones).
The reasons why Kaepernick has decided to refuse to stand for the national anthem, via Chris Biderman at USA Today’s Niners Wire:
Will you continue to sit?
CK: Yes. I’ll continue to sit. . . I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.
CK: There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.
So many people see the flag as a symbol of the military. How do you view it and what do you say to those people?
CK: I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.
Do you personally feel oppressed?
CK: There have been situations where I feel like I’ve been ill-treated, yes. This stand wasn’t for me. This stand wasn’t because I feel like I’m being put down in any kind of way. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.
He has also expressed skepticism for both Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R), the main candidates for the office of the Presidency.
CK: You have Hillary who has called black teens or black kids super predators, you have Donald Trump who’s openly racist. We have a presidential candidate who has deleted emails and done things illegally and is a presidential candidate. That doesn’t make sense to me because if that was any other person you’d be in prison. So, what is this country really standing for?
It’s worth noting that Kaepernick sat the national anthem out for the first two preseason games without any mention in the news and wasn’t in uniform. Only when he did so for the 3rd straight preseason game and did so while in uniform did it become the still-growing major story it is now. During the 4th and final preseason game and ever since then, the method of protest was changed from sitting to kneeling.
The “if you don’t subscribe to my political opinion you should leave the country” mantra is neither new nor original though. It’s permeated conservative thoughts and arguments for several years as its the best they can muster when presented with the fact that the Constitution and the First Amendment protect speech regardless of its agreeable or disagreeable content.
To argue that someone shouldn’t express their First Amendment free speech and expression rights because it harms the delicate patriotic sensibilities of conservatives so steeped in white privilege and ignorance they can’t see the forest for the trees isn’t just the height of institutional racism, it’s just plain ignorant.
Martenzie Johnson at The Undefeated on The Star-Spangled Banner and writer Francis Scott Key’s history, especially its 3rd verse due to its pro-slavery overtones and Key’s vehement for his time racism:
Though the well-known first verse, “in which a young man peers into a foggy and rain-soaked dawn to find out whether his country has been conquered in battle, is urgent, open-hearted and honest,” the third verse all but contradicts any meaning of a “land of the free” and “home of the brave” (emphasis mine):
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
So when Key references the “foul footstep’s” of the “hireling and slave” who “no refuge could save” from “the gloom of the grave” in the third verse, he’s referring to the killing of Colonial Marines. As noted by The Root political editor Jason Johnson, “The Star-Spangled Banner is as much a patriotic song as it is a diss track to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom.”
Key did not have a complicated or complex history with race. He “supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and … was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at the time,” Johnson wrote in his article for The Root. He owned slaves while writing the national anthem, at one point referring to blacks as “a distinct and inferior race of people.”
Colin Kaepernick, like millions of people all over this country, has had enough. I’ve had enough. Everybody I know and love has had enough. If you don’t know what we’ve had enough of, you are probably white and probably live in a bubble that has protected you not only from the injustice, but even from the news of its harsh reality.
The levels of injustice, racism, bigotry and brutality faced by people of color has crossed an invisible threshold in America. The straw has broken the camel’s back. It was not just the violent police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling this summer that pushed many of us past our breaking point, but the accumulation of injustice and the corresponding unwillingness of this nation to truly take the problem seriously that has put us where we are now. It’s too much.
What Colin Kaepernick did, not only by refusing to stand, but by then very clearly saying that he was refusing to stand for an anthem to a country that habitually mistreats African-Americans at every turn, was one of the boldest moves in the history of American sports. It follows Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War and the Black Power salute hoisted in the air at the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
I have actually grown quite used to athletes saying and doing very little about injustice, but we’ve crossed over to the point that even Michael Jordan, who is known for staying away from such public risks, has said that he’s had enough. If that doesn’t tell you how bad the problems are, then you simply don’t get it.
Kaepernick makes it clear that his action was connected to the movement against police violence. But a closer examination of his 18-minute press avail on Sunday reveals even more about his motivations and thinking. The transcript itself contains the most effective defense against the legions trying to distort or delegitimize his actions.
Responding to reporters, Kaepernick demonstrated a methodical and, whether you agree or disagree, ideologically consistent rationale for sitting out the anthem. Kaepernick is appalled by police brutality, which he sees as an expression of bipartisan, government-sanctioned violence. He wants to use his platform to raise awareness and is willing to risk his job to do it. He is, as ESPN columnist Bomani Jones put it, “asking for justice, not peace.”
It is also pathetic that so many in the sports media, who a few months ago were praising the legacy of Muhammad Ali, are coming down so ferociously on Colin Kaepernick. As if sports and politics can mix only in the past tense, and racism is something that can only be discussed as a historical question. People can choose to agree or disagree with Kaepernick’s analysis or arguments, but they should deal with the reality of the facts he’s risking his career to bring into light.
List of players/teams who joined in solidarity with Kaepernick, either by sitting, kneeling, or raising the right fist in the air (as of 1:30AM CDT, 09.13.2016):
College Football (1):
Indiana State: CB Lonnie Walker II
College Volleyball (3):
WVU Tech: Keyonna Morrow, Jade Berry, Roytihala Brown
49ers: QB Colin Kaepernick, S Eric Reid, CB Antoine Bethea, LB Eli Harold 
Seahawks: CB Jeremy Lane [Entire team linked arms with one another during anthem against Miami] 
Broncos: LB Brandon Marshall 
Chiefs: CB Marcus Peters 
Dolphins: HB Arian Foster, WR Kenny Stills, LB Jelani Jenkins, S Michael Thomas 
Titans: DE Jurrell Casey, LB Wesley Woodyard, CB Jason McCourty 
Patriots: TE Martellus Bennett, S Devin McCourty  Rams: WR Kenny Britt, DE Robert Quinn 
Soccer (1): Seattle Reign FC (NWSL): Megan Rapinoe
Are American citizens required to stand during the National Anthem?
According to Title 36 (section 171) of the United States Code, “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in (military) uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”
The question, of course, is whether “should” in the first sentence means “must” or “shall.”
So does it, and what’s the penalty if I don’t stand?
No, it doesn’t. Section 171 does not specify nor impose penalties for violating the section of the code. According to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress in 2008, “The Flag Code is a codification of customs and rules established for the use of certain civilians and civilian groups. No penalty or punishment is specified in the Flag Code for display of the flag of the United States in a manner other than as suggested. Cases … have concluded that the Flag Code does not proscribe conduct, but is merely declaratory and advisory.”
In other words, the Flag Code serves as a guide, and it is followed on a voluntary basis. You won’t be forced to stand for the National Anthem, nor hauled off to jail if you don’t. Cases brought because of something in the code — mainly ones that involve defacing the flag — have made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices have upheld that such conduct is protected by the First Amendment.
Let me say this plainly, honestly, and boldly: The actions of Rapinoe, Lane, Peters, and others who kneel, sit, or raise their fists during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner (or are planning to do so) in solidarity with Kaepernick do not constitute an attack on the American Flag, our police, our veterans, our patriotism, or our military. Our 1st Amendment protects the rights of those who express themselves in these manners during the anthem, regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with such actions. Our military (whether active or retired) fought for our rights as Americans to choose whether we as Americans choose to stand, sit, kneel, or raise our fists for the national anthem.
Originally published at www.dailykos.com on September 13, 2016.