About Kaepernick and Freedom of Speech

A lot of people say they believe in free speech. But really they believe in something else.

One thing people believe in instead of free speech is when they believe only in speech-that-agrees-with-me. This means that as long as I agree with what someone is saying, they should be allowed to say it. If not, they should stop.

Another thing that people believe in instead of free speech is when they believe in speech-no-one-is-allowed-to-disagree-with. This means that when I exercise my right to “free speech” you aren’t allowed to disagree with me or what I’m doing because it’s free speech. If you disagree with me, or even critique the way I say what I say, you are automatically a bigot and an enemy of freedom.

Neither one of these are free speech.

Speaking of free speech…

Here’s where I land on Kaepernick. I’m not outraged by what he did. He can do what he wants.

I’m a little amused and disappointed that he apparently had been doing it all preseason and the press just noticed. It’s terrible when you are trying to make a protest and no one notices.

Kaepernick can and should do what he wants. He’s exercising his freedom to draw attention to an issue he thinks is important. Is it disrespectful? Maybe. But a lot of stunts people pull in protest of things are disrespectful.

Dressing like indigenous people and vandalizing a shipment of tea comes to mind.

Stunts are a great way to draw attention to an issue. That’s what a sit-in is — or chaining yourself to a bulldozer, or a tree, or stopping traffic. They are physical actions — stunts — to gain publicity for something important.

I’m actually really glad he has chosen a form of protest that happens to be perfectly legal, and causes no danger, no inconvenience, and no potential loss to others. In that regard, it’s a lot better than some of the violent marches and protests we have seen. Good on him for that!

What I wish he had also done was have something better to say once he got people’s attention. I wish he was pointing to something else that he is doing to address the issue. This could be something he asks everyone to do with him, such as go to their local police and request better training. It could also be something that he could do from his place of privilege that others can’t, such as announce a large financial contribution to a new officer training program or a charitable organization that he feels is addressing the issue.

It’s not like he doesn’t have examples to look to here. Michael Jordan made a beautiful statement recently and donated both to the NAACP legal defense fund and to a community policing group.

I hope that Kaepernick continues his protest as long as he feels it is effective, but I would be more pleased if he did something more than just sit out of an anthem. I would hope he and others — like you and me — step out to act in ways that can make more of a difference.