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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, SEPT. 2, 2016
BY BOB FRANKEN
CHEERING FOR COLIN KAEPERNICK
It was refreshing, in a way: Finally we have a player in the United States who has become a target of the haters and who is not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And this player actually is one, a football quarterback named Colin Kaepernick who has had the audacity to remain seated while the national anthem is playing during pre-game ceremonies.
While everyone else robotically stood as usual, fidgeting and wondering whether his or her hand was supposed to be placed on the heart, Kaepernick refused to get up. It was, he explained over and over, a protest against this country’s sorrowful record of violence by police against minorities. “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 knowingly thrust himself into the middle of a cyclone generated by the outrage of millions of infuriated people. In fact, the super-patriotism backlash has threatened his NFL career. “To me, this is bigger than football,” he told one interviewer, “and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
How dare he be so ungrateful, his angry critics exploded. How dare he belittle the sacrifices of our military! Kaepernick didn’t back down. In the next game, he refused to stand. Instead, he and a teammate kneeled as the national anthem was played. Meanwhile, miracle of miracles, the debate suddenly included some reflection that started scratching away at all the jingoism. Wasn’t Colin Kaepernick really honoring the military by demonstrating what they fight for -- the right of Americans to freely express themselves? Besides, didn’t we eventually honor Muhammad Ali for his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War, even when he was banned from boxing as a result? And, oh yeah, what about that “Star-Spangled Banner,” whose third verse passionately advocates for slavery? Shouldn’t we consider replacing it? It’s a tortured melody to begin with. Anyone who has suffered through it being screeched at a game can attest to that.
As for that whole sports-patriotism thingy, it loses a bit of its luster when we come to find out that the Pentagon paid millions of dollars to the various pro leagues to unfurl the colors before games and contrive various other tributes to our nation. It seems the image-makers in our armed forces decided it would be a good recruiting tool, and team owners were all too happy to accept big bucks for showing the flag.
Kaepernick has been willing to patiently explain his actions to any reporter who asks, which is certainly more in keeping with U.S. traditions than the conduct of our presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton refuses to hold a news conference. She has hidden out from that free-wheeling give and take since last year. Heaven forbid some unruly reporter would ask an inconvenient question and be persistent. As for her opponent, Donald Trump, he blatantly attacks the media, demonizes them, intimidates them in every way he can and, if that doesn’t work, simply bans any organization that publishes something he doesn’t like. In fact, when he was doing his immigration con job by traveling to Mexico, he didn’t allow those who cover him and know all his tricks to accompany him. That way, he could meet unencumbered with that country’s hapless president and look eminently reasonable before delivering his same-old red-meat speech to supporters in Arizona.
In reality, then, Colin Kaepernick might consider expanding his “Star-Spangled” protest. While the issue of deadly police brutality against minorities is hugely significant by itself, we all might be attracted to a rejection of a political system that has produced a choice between widely disliked and grossly unacceptable. Kaepernick should be honored for his protest. Others might be tempted to show their disgust by boycotting the election. That could lead to disaster.
© 2016 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.