An Open Letter of Support for Colin Kaepernick From American Military Veterans

In 1947, former Army officer Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson experienced taunts, epithets, and threats of violence for simply standing up to the status quo of segregation in America.

Since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick engaged in a silent protest to bring attention to the state of emergency facing people of color in America, a chorus of detractors have lined up to denounce his stand, or more accurately his sit. Fans have burned his jersey. A presidential candidate suggested he leave the country. Many have claimed his protest disrespected American veterans.

Jackie Robinson isn’t here today to tell us what he would think of Kaepernick’s protest. But he did convey the same sentiment about the national anthem as Kaepernick in his 1972 autobiography, writing, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

As military veterans, we write to express our support for the tradition of advocacy by athletes that is embodied by Jackie Robinson and carried on by Colin Kaepernick.

For generations, American athletes have used their public voice to force our collective attention towards the crises and issues that challenge our national conscience. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Ariyana Smith, the Minnesota Lynx, the Missouri Tigers football team, and stars across professional sports declaring that #BlackLivesMatter, are all part of a brave tradition of protest by athletes. Far from an anomaly, athletes leading on social change has been the norm in America. The right for those athletes, and all Americans, to protest is one we all pledged to defend with our lives if necessary. Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.

While we would not all personally choose to protest in a manner identical to Kaepernick, we respect and honor his choice, and whole heartedly join him in stating unequivocally that BLACK LIVES MATTER. The current state of affairs for people of color in America is unsustainable and unacceptable. According to analysis by the Washington Post, black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans. Far too often, people of color are dying at the hands of law enforcement personnel in the streets, our jails, and their homes. Indictments are rare and convictions are essentially nonexistent.

This status quo outrages us as men and women who raised our right hands and pledged to defend, with our lives if necessary, a Constitution that proclaims intent to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,” and “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Those ideals are simply not being upheld for all Americans.

As veterans, we implore all Americans to find your own way to challenge this status quo and advocate for “a more perfect union.” Your method of protest may not be to refrain from the traditions surrounding our national symbols, and it doesn’t have to be. You have the same right as Colin Kaepernick to choose whether and how to advocate, a right we support and served for. However you choose to use your voice, please do so with an understanding that many veterans do not condemn the protest of activists like Jackie Robinson, Colin Kaepernick and everyday Americans seeking justice. Indeed, we see no higher form of patriotism.

Eric Baker, United States Army Veteran

Bill Barton, United States Air Force Veteran

Robert Bateman, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom

Jason Bensley, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Stephen Benson, United States Navy Veteran: Vietnam War

Keith Boyea, United States Air Force Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom

Xavier Burgos, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom

Tony Camerino, United States Air Force Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Stephanie Driessel, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

LeighAnn Dunn, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

David Ramiro Duran, United States Army Veteran

Robin Eckstein, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Rick Hegdahl, United States Navy Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Chris Holman, United States Army Veteran

Melanie Howie, United States Air Force Veteran

Mitchell Howie, United States Air Force Veteran

Keith Jeffreys, United States Army Veteran

Tara Jones, United States Navy Veteran: Gulf War Era

Jason Macon, United States Marine Corps Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Lamar Mapp, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom

Brian McGough, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom

Neal McGough, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom

Andrew Nixon, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom

Parker Ormsby, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom

Matt Osborne, United States Army Veteran

Jackie Rodgers, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Terron Sims II, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Richard Allen Smith, United States Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom

Shannon Smyth, United States Air Force Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Ryan Sullivan, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom

Mike Stark, United States Marine Corps Veteran

Armondo Telles, United States Marine Corps Veteran

Catherine Trombley, United States Air Force Veteran

Colm Walker, United Staes Army Veteran: Operation Enduring Freedom

Bobby Wise, United States Army Veteran: Operation Iraqi Freedom