So make no mistake about it, I understand where someone could be coming from with this stand. And I do think Kaepernick has the right to do what he's doing; whether or not the First Amendment applies to private industry, there's still such a thing as freedom of political expression in this country - at least for now. Provided that one recognizes the possibility of blowback for their actions, there should be no question about having the right to take a political stand. For years blacks had what they thought of as their own national anthem, so this itself is nothing new.
I also don't go for the idea that his actions somehow "disrespect" the military. While the military may well be credited for winning American independence in the Revolution, the truth of the matter is that this army was led by a politician - George Washington - and was spurred to action by an entire Congress of politicians, the Founding Fathers. It is no lack of respect of America's armed forces to say that the National Anthem stands for more than just them. To say so might actually disrespect the rest of America. The Anthem belongs to all of us, after all. It does seem that in the last few years we've turned almost every major holiday in this country, with the exception of Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day, into some type of tribute to our soldiers. Let's honor them by all means, but leave us not turn everything into a cause célèbre.
Things get murkier when it comes down to the case of Kaepernick specifically. This may blow my cover when it comes to how much I pay attention to the NFL, but until this I didn't even know that Kaepernick was partly black. I just saw a scruffy guy with a beard and a lot of tats, and when you put him in a football uniform there isn't much else showing. That's why I was confused when this first came to light, because I wondered what was in it for him. Now I understand that a little better, but it hardly answers my questions. Most of these questions have been raised by others, but that very fact means they're good questions:
- How much has Kaepernick himself done for the black community? Does he pledge money? Does he have a foundation or charity? Has he personally become involved with the families of any of the people he claims are laying dead in the streets?
- Does Kaepernick really believe we should be taking him seriously when he's making as much money as he is? Being a celebrity doesn't mean you sacrifice your right to have an opinion, of course, but when you've been as much of a success in America as Colin Kaepernick has, any complaints about inequality and lack of freedom tend to ring hollow. Has he done anything to overcome this?
- Speaking of which, how much discrimination has Kaepernick himself faced? To the extent he hasn't been singled out, could it be because he's lighter-skinned than many blacks? And from there, does this open up a larger discussion about attitudes toward light-skinned blacks in the greater black community? Do they have a hierarchy themselves?
- I have a hard time believing Kaepernick's sincerity considering he's become a borderline quarterback who stands a good chance of being cut by the 49ers before the start of the season. Why is it that I'm cynical enough to believe he's either (a) trying to deflect attention from his failures on the playing field by trying to curry favor with blacks and liberals; (b) trying to prevent the 49ers from releasing them by setting them up to appear racists and reactionaries if they do; (c) hoping another team will see positive PR coming from picking him up; or (d) a combination of the above? Note that I'm not accusing him of any of this - I'm merely saying that a cynic might think so. Not that there's any room for cynicism in professional sports. Not at all.
- Finally, how much does this reflect on Kaepernick's leadership? As the quarterback he is, as one wag put it, the CEO of the team (at least on the field). Does he show leadership by refusing to stand with his teammates as one on the sideline? Does he show leadership by calling attention to himself and his individual actions, rather than the team as a whole? Does he show leadership by creating such a distraction? You tell me.
Truth be told, I find the discussion about Kaepernick far more interesting than Kaepernick himself, which might be the cruelest cut of all if he is in fact just trolling for publicity. Dreher asks a couple of pertinent questions, and where I break severely with him is in the way I react to them:
We may see no contradiction between being a good Christian and a good American, but what happens when Americans as a whole look at dissenting Christians and call us un-American for the things we believe and do? Will we stand for the National Anthem then? If so, will we stand for the America we think is real, versus this politicized, debased America that the mainstream holds to? Or will it be more important for us not to stand, and to accept whatever consequences come with that?
What will it cost us if we lose the ability to stand together for the National Anthem? Is it worth what we stand to gain
Dreher typically reacts with horror to this thought, of America breaking up, but I don't; I've a hard time thinking of this as a unified country for some time. Dreher craves order, and freaks out when there's even a whiff of anarchy (and I don't mean the French Revolution kind); were it not for that, I wonder if he wouldn't be able to see that this ship sailed a long, long time ago. We're split, not just on ideological disagreements, but increasingly on fundamental questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When I ask the questions I did in my opening paragraph, I'm not just wondering about a hypothetical situation - it already exists. Dreher, for as pessimistic as he is, only intellectualizes that we might have passed the point of no return, when the only question is whether the split is peaceful or not. For many of us, thought, the upside of such a split continues to seem far greater than the downside of remaining one nation, even though it may not be under God (or so we think, anyway) and doesn't offer either liberty or justice for all.
I think the time is coming, and in fact is already here. We just haven't felt the shockwaves yet.
Originally published August 30, 2016
Originally published August 30, 2016