Standing Up By Being Seated

In the ninth episode of his podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell explores the intriguing and contradictory concept of “generous orthodoxy”. It is contradictory in the sense that the words are polar opposites, yet Gladwell merges them together saying, “to be generous is to be open to change, while to be orthodox is to be committed to tradition”. Later, Gladwell states that generous orthodoxy “requires a real sacrifice; that’s why [it] is so hard”. In Gladwell’s summarization, he stresses that in order for generous orthodoxy to work effectively, one must “respect the body they are trying to heal”. Recently, a very real case of generous orthodoxy has captured headlines nationwide and it started with one man; Colin Kaepernick.

In the third week of the NFL’s preseason, during a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, reporters captured a roguish and controversial sight with their cameras. The images revealed the 49ers’ star quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sitting on the bench while his teammates stand. Collectively, they stand in reverence, due to the playing of the national anthem overhead; however, Kaepernick refuses. As the images of Kaepernick’s protest are released, they quickly gain national attention. His actions quickly create an ensuing uproar of contempt and disappointment among the American populous.

In a statement after the game, Colin Kaepernick explained his defiant gesture, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s protest demonstrates generosity by showing his willingness to bring about change, but it lacks respect for the established customs; it lacks orthodoxy. To an overwhelming amount of Americans, the act of sitting during the playing of the national anthem shows an absence of reverence for the flag and an offensive sense of indignation for the U.S. as a whole. It is this shortcoming that has so instantaneously enraged Americans, many to the point of publically criticizing Colin Kaepernick’s actions while pushing others so far as burning Kaepernick’s jerseys. Yet, at the same time, others praised Kaepernick for his bravery, dedication, and willingness to demonstrate his cause.

Despite all the criticism he received, Colin Kaepernick continued his silent protest in the ensuing games. When the time came for “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be played at Colin Kaepernick’s final game of the NFL preseason, rather than sitting on a bench, he and fellow teammate Eric Reid respectfully took a knee. This gesture still demonstrated the same committed generosity from before, but now it undoubtedly exemplifies that Kaepernick was attempting to make his protest orthodoxical as well. People swiftly began rallying around Kaepernick’s message via social media and other platforms, adamantly stating their advocation toward his actions. As his resistance continued, other NFl players and athletes began to align themselves with his ideals by kneeling during the national anthem as well. Even Megan Rapinoe, a soccer player on the U.S. Women’s National team could be seen kneeling before several games.

Colin Kaepernick’s protest for equality has continued to gain momentum, spanning beyond professional sports.In fact, Musicians and rappers have even started to wear Kaepernick’s 49ers jersey during performances. Undeniably, President Obama;s acknowledgement of the NFL player brought the most attention to Kaepernick’s demonstration of generous orthodoxy. The president released a statement about Kaepernick saying “[H]e’s following his constitutional right to make a statement.” In the same manner, he continued endorsing Kaepernick by stating: “I would rather have young people who are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than people who are just sitting on the sidelines and not paying attention at all.”

The strategy of Colin Kaepernick’s recent protests is an unequivocal example of generous orthodoxy. His cause is pure, and his actions are noble. Kneeling for the national anthem demonstrates reverence, not only for the flag, but also all the sacrifices that it symbolizes. Correspondingly, Veterans have recognised this respect displayed by Kaepernick and have voiced their support for his actions. Some have even taken to social media, rallying around him using the hashtag “VeteransForKaepernick”. More recently however, a darker spin has been put onto Colin Kaepernick’s protest.

In the past few weeks, Kaepernick intentionally modified his crusade for equality in an effort to restore the reverence and respect for America, that it originally lacked. Sadly, other African American athletes have begun to undermine this well-constructed protest by putting their own twist on it. Rather than taking a knee, these individuals have begun to raise a closed fist during the playing of the nation anthem. Unfortunately, this gesture is seemingly reversing the progress that Kaepernick fought so hard to respectfully. This action no longer symbolises a reverent stance against establishment, but rather, it is reminiscent of the racially turbid past; particularly, of the Black Panther Party.

Historically, the Black Panthers were an extremely aggressive group of African American militants who literally fought for racial equality throughout the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Across the nation, Panthers clashed with police officers in the streets; on many occasions, members of the party engaged in lengthy shoot-outs with officers. The conflict became so heated and widespread, that the FBI eventually classified the Black Panther Party as a communist organization, branding it the top threat to national security. After being viciously hunted down by the FBI in a series of controversial events, the group eventually began to disband. However, this group of outlaws were notoriously remembered for raising a closed fist, not unlike the one displayed by African American athletes at recent sporting events.The athletes raising their fists have taken Kaepernick’s kneeling gesture which demonstrated both generosity and orthodoxy, and devolved it into something significantly less respectful than what Gladwell states must exist for any protest to establish real, lasting change.

This clenched fist no longer maintains the same respectful level of orthodoxy; instead, it has magnified the cause only in generosity. It demonstrates the profound desire for racial equality that these athletes possess, but it no longer demonstrates the necessary respect for the prevailing establishment or the sacrifices made by veterans. Above all though, it no longer exhibits any amount of dedication for the stars and stripes of our flag, the symbol of our beloved country.

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