Fun fact about Kaepernick that I didn’t know until this morning: His Twitter feed is full-bore SJW, with one retweet after another of Black Lives Matter champion Shaun King. It takes a lot to boost your wokeness quotient when you’re already that woke. But he figured out a way!
This is what would be called a “base strategy” in politics, in that it’s bound to impress and catalyze people who already sympathize with him at the expense of alienating literally everyone else.
His latest refusal to stand for the anthem — he has done this in at least one other preseason game — came before the 49ers preseason loss to Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium.
“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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game against Green Bay. “To me, this is bigger than football 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.”
The 49ers issued this statement: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”…
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
The author notes that black superstar athletes like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have also spoken up about civil rights in the past few years. Right, but neither one has tried to indict the country writ large the way Kaepernick has by refusing to stand for the anthem. Compare and contrast: Two days ago, Kaepernick tweeted an image of the American and Confederate flags with the caption “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.” (He deleted the tweet later.) Five days before that, Anthony was on the podium in Rio as the flag was raised and the national anthem played, having just won his third gold medal at the Olympics as a member of USA Basketball. James has also played for Team USA in the past. Neither of them had to, but they were willing. Fans notice. The two modes of protest here, theirs and Kaepernick’s, are really a case study in how groups process criticism. If you’re a member of the national “group,” your criticism can be understood as an attempt to better it; if you make your point by symbolically renouncing your membership, the shunning will go both ways. Although Kaepernick, I’m sure, would say that America turned its back on him and other black citizens long before he decided to respond in kind.
Here’s a photo of him during the anthem last night in San Francisco. That’s Kaepernick between the Gatorade coolers:
— Will Reeve Jr. (@WillReeveJr) August 27, 2016
If you’re not a football fan, you need context here to understand the crux of the fan backlash to come. Kaepernick made a big splash a few years ago when he became the starting quarterback for the 49ers, one of the NFL’s glamour franchises. He took the team to the Super Bowl in 2013, then had another great year and just missed taking them back to the Super Bowl again in 2014. A few months later he signed a blockbuster contract worth more than $125 million. Endorsement deals started flowing in. He was a bona fide superstar, already one of the best rushing quarterbacks in NFL history. He had a solid year the following season, but the team finished just 8-8. Last year his productivity dropped noticeably and the 49ers ended up benching him before shutting him down in November due to injury. Earlier this year his agents requested that he be traded. That’s … not what you want from the guy you spent $125 million on. The 49ers ended up not trading him, and right now he’s competing in the pre-season with the guy who replaced him as starting QB last year to see who’ll be number one when the season opens next month.
Point being, he’s discovered his social consciousness and embarked on this attention-grabbing stunt at a moment when he seems to have less to lose than he did a few years ago, when he was winning games and in demand as a pitchman. And he’s indicting America as one of the most privileged people in America, a mega-millionaire celebrity with the job every kid west of Denver dreams of having. A lot of NFL fans are going to react to this anthem protest like this:
REPORT: The 49ers refuse to stand and watch while Colin Kaepernick is playing, will not support a QB whose play horribly oppresses his team
— NOTSportsCenter (@NOTSportsCenter) August 27, 2016
I just wanna say that if this country wants to persecute me with $128 million to hold a clipboard on an NFL sideline, then ok I guess.
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) August 27, 2016
That’s another key difference between James and Anthony on the one hand and Kaepernick on the other. The first two are still elite, beloved players in their sport. Kaepernick no longer is. A fan will put up with off-field distractions from a player, whether personal or political, if he’s adding tons of value to the team. If he isn’t, he’ll be dismissed as a malcontent who should be thinking less about “staying woke” and more about reading defenses. Which is unfair to Kaepernick: The reason he wasn’t doing social-justice protests at the Super Bowl three years ago may have less to do with him not wanting to blow an endorsement deal and more to do with him having not paid as much attention to racial issues before. The George Zimmerman verdict was issued in July 2013, six months after the Super Bowl; Eric Garner died one year later, in August 2014. A month after that brought the Michael Brown shooting and riots in Ferguson, followed by the rise of BLM. People evolve in their politics at their own rate, and that rate is often driven by events. Occam’s Razor suggests that media coverage of police shootings over the past few years plus BLM’s messaging has honestly turned Kaepernick more radical, not situationally radical as his play has declined and the spotlight has moved on. But refusing to stand for the anthem is a stupid, blunt-force way of making his point. It’s of a piece with flag-burning, and the only convert a flag-burner ever made was for the other side. I guess, if and when the 49ers end up releasing him for poor play, he’ll have a ready-made excuse now that it was about politics rather than football even though most fans will be under no illusions. Imagine San Francisco’s hometown team cutting a guy for caring too much about “social justice.”
Exit question: Can he get LeBron to not stand for the anthem too? The only way to salvage this, I think, is if other big-name players follow his lead and liberals in the media get to start slobbering about how one man with a conscience started a movement.