Societal Implications of the Public’s Outrage at Kaepernick’s Peaceful Protest

Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has recently been thrust into the mainstream public eye after his decision to sit during the national anthem at a preseason game. In response to the public outcry at his actions, he agreed with NFL administration to kneel as opposed to sit during future games. Upon questioning, Kaepernick explains that his refusal to stand during the national anthem stems from power imbalances in the United States. He told NFL media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and investigations of police brutality, Kaepernick’s actions seem to fall in line with recent controversies. During media availability on August 28th, he insists, “This is for people that don’t have the voice”. As a public figure, Kaepernick wields his platform to demonstrate injustices in the United States.

Public outrage at Kaepernick’s actions escalated the controversy. NFL fans have been publicly open about their indignation, burning his jersey. Much of this discourse centers around respect for the American flag. Angry fans insist that Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem directly and outwardly disrespects the flag. This brings into question the symbolism behind the flag as a representative of American pride, particularly military appreciation. Why did Kaepernick’s quiet protest explode into a massive controversy?

Kaepernick cites police brutality as one of his reasons for kneeling. A hot topic in the past few years with the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, among many others, police brutality sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM focuses on spreading awareness about the persistent, institutionalized racism that is alive and well in the United States. As a man of color himself, Kaepernick’s actions center on race in America.

However, despite attempting to fight for black people in America, Kaepernick is further demonized because of his race. The public outrage at his actions derives from a black man interfering with white entertainment. American media appreciates black men solely if they are associated with hip-hop music or athletics. When Kaepernick becomes an activist, as he quietly and scarcely did, he is no longer important to the white audience of the NFL. The important, pressing issues that he fights for are nothing more than an annoyance to NFL fans, an interruption in their game. However, Kaepernick’s stage as an NFL player is crucial to his message. By peacefully protesting during the national anthem of a football game, Kaepernick asserts that these issues must be confronted and talked about even when it’s uncomfortable, even when you want to kick up your heels and watch football.

In addition to the racial implications of Kaepernick’s protest, the public reaction brings into question ideas about masculinity and patriotism. The conflation of the military and athletics in the United States has fostered an atmosphere of patriotism during games. During the halftime of a football game, a group of veterans often walks onto the field and receives a standing ovation. Albeit wonderful for the troops to receive recognition and praise, why does it solely occur at sporting events, particularly football games? Why are sporting events riddled with military propaganda, urging viewers to support our troops?

Perhaps it has something to do with the overwhelmingly white audience of football. Compared to an NBA game, whose audience consists of 45% black viewers, an NFL military reunion, a veteran appreciation, or even the national anthem is a huge production. The NFL capitalizes on their white audience, pandering to their emotions and national pride. Dubbed “paid patriotism”, the US Department of Defense has even paid the NFL millions of dollars to exhibit patriotic displays during their games. The environment of unabashed, emotional patriotism at professional football games contributes to the intense, passionate anger of many fans about Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem.

While important to have national pride and respect for the military, a certain level of hyper-patriotism can be very dangerous. A warped image of the United States as the greatest place on earth can create a sense of delusion. This idea of Americans as “the good guys” or “the heroes” has persisted since World War II. This image illustrates a sense of a physically strong warrior, which connects it to football players. However, the masculine patriot that refuses to recognize America’s flaws results in an unchanging, stagnant nation. Unfortunately, many NFL fans seem to have this ideology, causing their outrage towards Kaepernick.

Despite its negativity, the public outcry at Kaepernick’s actions is healthy and expected. By silently voicing his dissatisfaction with the US, Kaepernick brings issues of race and patriotism to a mainstream setting. Regardless of the often negative reaction from fans, his actions have sparked a dialogue. Americans, including NFL fans who insist on “respecting the flag”, must confront their own opinions and beliefs and come to terms with how their values have manifested. Discovering the source of fans’ anger at Colin Kaepernick’s actions is significant because it demonstrates the unrelenting, insidious race issue in America’s inflated ego.