Colin Kaepernick may never play another down of NFL football, but he is the clear winner when it comes to his anthem protest. Can anyone really argue he hasn’t won? Seriously! The President of these here United States just canceled the Eagles scheduled appearance today because only like 10 of the players were planning to attend. Boom! Case closed.
And make no mistake; this is the best thing that could possibly have been imagined when Mr. Kaepernick took his first knee. Not just for him and his cause (which is to protest the murderous treatment black men in America by police), but for our entire society because we now have men of wealth and power standing up for decency in a time when decency seems to be in question. Because we are having real discussions about race relations that have been long overdue. Because watching how this specific issue has inspired good people to take a stand across this nation has then inspired others to get their own messages out, whatever they believe. To speak up. To take a stand. Our democracy has been activated and that can only be good for all of us. Change is inevitable, but now we have people invigorated and willing to stand up and direct that change in a positive manner. That is true patriotism.
Here's quick little history of why we are playing the national anthem at sporting events in the first place. The story goes that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played (or at least it was remarked upon) at a sporting event for the first time in 1918 (World War I), in Chicago, during the 7th inning stretch of game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs, by the U.S. Navy band. The mood was grim since the war had been going for well over a year and the U.S. had lost more than 100,000 soldiers, plus a bomb had gone off in the city the day before killing 4 and injuring dozens. To put it mildly, the mood was somber. Red Sox infielder Fred Thomas, a Navy serviceman who had been granted furlough to play in the series, stopped and saluted the flag in center field while the band played. Many of the other players joined him by putting their hands over their hearts while the fans, which were already standing for the 7th inning stretch, began singing along. It was the highlight of an otherwise somber event and, in an effort to engage the fans; it was played again before each successive game in the series. It wasn’t until almost 30 years later (not coincidentally at the end of World War II) that it was required by the NFL and we’ve been stuck with it ever since.
And I’m fine with it, I guess, but it wouldn’t bother me if we didn’t play it before every game. Maybe save it for national holidays and international sporting events when it might actually be relevant. But the importance we invest in the anthem is exactly what Kaepernick was counting on to help bring his cause to national attention. That’s the reason we’re all even arguing about it in the first place. But regardless of your feelings about the appropriateness of the anthem at sporting events, or whether you support or despise those who protest, Colin Kaepernick took a beloved American tradition, along with his own fame and notoriety, and used it to try and make the world better. And isn’t that the American way? Don’t we all get a voice in how our society is run? And the bigger the platform, the more people hear your message. Agree or disagree with his specific ideology, he succeeded in creating a society-wide discussion (even if the discussion is more about protesting the anthem than about racist cops) and it’s never a bad thing when we have real conversations about difficult issues. It is a pervasive topic. He may never play another down in the NFL but he has had arguably the greatest influence on society that any athlete ever has. The fact that policies are being changed, an American President has been forced to make an accommodation, and we’re all still talking about it years after he took that first knee is proof of that.