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Knee-drop launches vital dialogue on race

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.

Kaepernick sat during the playing of the national anthem before his San Francisco 49ers’ preseason game Aug. 26. His taking a stand by sitting down inspired a whole lot of debate and even more anger and malice directed at the quarterback, with athletes here like myself largely in support.

Those opposed to the protest have 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 changed in the face of this criticism, 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 preseason 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 now-starting quarterback for a sub-par NFL team is the ideal catalyst for this movement. But, athletes can and should use their platform to gain publicity for a worthy cause, and that’s exactly what Kaepernick has done.

As a result of his protest, Kaepernick has gained support and distaste alike from members of the athletic world. His teammates and other players from across the NFL have joined in, with some of them kneeling and others raising a fist in a tribute to the black power salute made by John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Olympics. The movement has crossed into other sports as well, with National Women’s Soccer League star Megan Rapinoe taking a knee to represent LGBT athletes and Women’s National Basketball Association players kneeling during the anthem in light of the shootings last month in Charlotte and Tulsa.

While there has been quite a bit of support, it seems that the critical voices have been more outspoken. Kaepernick revealed recently that he has received death threats, according to an article on Fox Sports. Fans at the 49ers road game against the Buffalo Bills Oct. 16 started a loud ‘USA’ chant shortly before Kaepernick kneeled for the anthem. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman James Harrison, another critic, tweeted: “If you [are] on my team and not [standing] for the 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 are 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 month, 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 varsity 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 supportive of Kaepernick’s demonstration.

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

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