"Believe in something.
Even if it means sacrificing everything”
Those words come from Nike’s new advertising. They appear beneath a black-and-white picture of Colin Kaepernick who used to be an NFL quarterback. It’s the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” slogan.
Kaepernick hasn’t played an NFL game since the end of 2016 when the San Francisco 49ers dropped him. No other team has given him a chance to continue his professional career.
His sin? Kneeling, in protest, during the playing of our National Anthem at the opening of football games. His purpose? To call national attention to this nation’s ongoing racial injustice and police brutality dealing with Black men. Just that simple. Just that profound.
But, nothing in professional sports, in my long lifetime, has been so disturbingly twisted and, in far too many cases, deliberately misunderstood. What Kaepernick did was for the reasons he stated. No more. No less. Period. Patriotism, as usually defined, had nothing to do with it. Or, did it? Real love of country could easily be applied.
He’s made an attention-grabbing “statement” to focus us all on a true national problem. That’s what protests are about. That’s what protestors do. Whether dangling from cables off a high bridge to protest environmental concerns, marching in the streets to demand an end to sexual harassment or sitting in at “Whites Only” lunch counters 55 years ago to demand equal rights for everyone. All of us.
Protests mean nothing if they don’t get attention. Attention and action. Few of us haven’t protested something. Something we felt was unjust, demeaning, illegal, criminal or just plain wrong. We’re a nation of protestors and, like it or not, our governing laws allow us to do so. Urge us to do so.
When Kaepernick decided to take a stand - or a knee, in this case - he said “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish, on my part, to look the other way.” Sounds reasonable. He used his success in football to try to accomplish his goal, while grabbing our national attention doing so. Also sounds smart.
But, there’s an often seemingly deliberate ignorance expressed over the kneeling business. Our egregious president weighted in with one of his infamous, ill-informed tweets: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of those NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field now?’” No. No, I wouldn’t.
When those kinds of words are used, the term “deliberate ignorance” is fitting. “Flag disrespect” has nothing to do with it. But, Trump’s not alone. In our little cactus-covered neighborhood, many folks are coming unglued, spewing hate and venom all over our local Facebook columns. Some are posting pictures of their burning Nike gear and bragging of how they’re “protesting” Kapernick and Nike’s stand. They do so without a touch of irony for the fact they, too, are “protesting” a perceived wrong.
Nike management knows all that. Yet, the company has staked its considerable success on a cause that management believes is just and right. We’ll see.
The NFL has, as usual, bungled what varied responses it’s made to all this. It created a “policy” forbidding kneeling. Those wishing to protest were to stay in the locker room until after playing of the Anthem. But, that was put “on hold” in July. So, there really is no “policy.”
It’s been my experience, many who protest the loudest about “disrespect of flag and country” or find other imagined “travesties” in this legitimate protest, can’t explain why such expressions have occurred. They’re too wrapped in hate and feigned “patriotism”to actually understand the issue(s).
Possibly the most “adult” response I’ve heard has come from many veterans. While some claim outrage, others have a more thoughtful - and to my mind - accurate reaction. “What he’s doing is exactly why I did three tours in Afghanistan,” said one. “To see to it he has the right to protest and that no one can take that right away.”
It’s possible to argue the form of protest Kaepernick has chosen. But, it’s impossible to dispute the reasoning. And the necessity. To a nation’s shame.