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On the mound: athletes spark conversation

Patrick Fitzgerald, Sports Editor

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Colin Kaepernick. Love him or hate him, you’re talking about him and what he’s doing, and that’s exactly what he wants you to do.

When Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem before his San Francisco 49ers’ preseason game Aug. 26, it was not the first time he had done it, but it was the first time people noticed. His taking a stand by sitting down inspired a whole lot of debate and even more anger and malice directed at the quarterback.

Those opposed to the protest mocked Kaepernick as a pampered millionaire professional athlete who doesn’t experience or understand racial struggles. Others blasted him for having no patriotism and a lack of respect for the military. But Kaepernick’s stance hasn’t wavered, and his reasoning is sound.

“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 said in an exclusive interview with NFL media following that game, NFL.com reported..

And Kaepernick has not stood up. He now kneels during the national anthem in an unwavering statement of his values. This unlikely figure has started a wave of conversations that need to be had, and he ought to be respected and commended for it, not ridiculed.

I’m not saying that the backup quarterback for a sub-par NFL team is the ideal catalyst for this movement. But, athletes have so much of the world watching them when they take the field. They can use their platform in order to gain publicity for a worthy cause, and that is exactly what Kaepernick has done.

As a result of his protest, Kaepernick has gained support and distaste alike from members of the athletic world. Teammate Eric Reid joined Kaepernick, kneeling during the anthem for the first two weeks of the regular season, as have Dolphins players Kenny Stills, Arian Foster, and Michael Thomas, along with Denver Bronco Brandon Marshall. Many other players have also raised their fists during the anthem in a tribute to John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s black power salute in the 1968 Olympics. The movement has crossed into other sports, with National Women’s Soccer League star Megan Rapinoe taking a knee to represent LGBT athletes.

While there has been ample support, it seems that the critical voices have been even more outspoken. Kaepernick revealed recently that he has received death threats, according to an article on Fox Sports. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman James Harrison, another critic, tweeted: “If you [are] on my team and not [standing] for Anthem [it] better be from a broken leg or I’m [going to] give you one. Others have questioned Kaepernick’s sincerity, labeling the protest as a publicity stunt.

But that’s just an ill-informed, hard-headed point of view. Kaepernick and the athletes that have joined him in taking a stand seem intent on generating healthy conversation about the country’s racial issues. Even Kaepernick could not have expected such a severe backlash, but he has remained steadfast.

Another objection people have is that Kaepernick is disrespecting the military with his demonstration. But those people don’t understand what’s going on. Kaepernick respects the military. He met with ex-Green Beret and former Seattle Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer after Boyer wrote Kaepernick an open letter. Kaepernick is speaking out against racial injustice and police violence within the country. The flag stands as a symbol of our country, and he simply doesn’t feel like the country is representing people of color equally.

Last week, I was a part of exactly the kind of conversation that Kaepernick is hoping to incite. After the first week of football’s regular season, our Dulaney Baseball team group chat that is usually confined to discussing baseball or posting memes went a little deeper. We talked about Kaepernick’s protest and shared our own opinions about racial injustice in our country. After the conversation, I felt like I had gained perspective on the issue and become more informed and open-minded.

The movement spurred by Kaepernick has sprouted great conversation in a place where one might least expect it, and that’s something he would love to see.

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