Colin Kaepernick is no stranger to adversity. Imagine being abandoned by your birth father, given up by your 19 year-old mother at birth, and adopted as a bi-racial child by white parents. Imagine being shunned by your white friends for not being “white enough”, and by your friends of color for not being “dark enough”. Being told or thinking your birth parents didn’t want you. You’re not good enough. You don’t belong. As with many bi-racial and adopted children, this was at least some part of Kaepernick’s life as he was growing up. But he found football early, and he was really good at it. In a way, football made all the difference between being a person of little privilege and one with significant privilege.
But then Kaepernick decided to use his privilege as an NFL star to protest the frequent terrible treatment – dehumanization – of people with less privilege, people of minority status and especially black people. In his own words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…to me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” He chose to continue to sit or kneel during the national anthem until seeing “significant change” for minorities. Over time, others have also started kneeling during the national anthem to bring awareness to the inequitable treatment of people of color and minority status. And of course, most people know the resulting turmoil, including Donald Trump insisting all players who don’t stand be fired.
There’s another player, Tim Tebow, who has knelt on the NFL field, and was widely cheered for it – especially by those who would call themselves evangelicals. But Kaepernick hasn’t received such praise, even though he also professes faith in Christ and love for God – even literally wearing his faith on his sleeve/person. Some would say Tebow lost his opportunity at a long NFL career because of his posture on the field. Others say he “just wasn’t good enough” as a player. People say much the same of Kaepernick. Yet many say this is different because it’s about patriotism, or at least nationalism. But is it?
The playing of the National Anthem was introduced during WWII as a means to bolster support and attendance of sporting events, specifically Major League Baseball. It was primarily a financial decision when MLB owners linked patriotism to attendance. This is fact, not conjecture. And the financial impact of players choosing to kneel has team owners admitting profits have been negatively impacted. One could ask: what is the real issue here? Are these protesting players really less patriotic, or is practicing their right to protest actually confirmation that they are patriotic?
Now there’s new outrage because Nike has chosen Kaepernick as the face of their newest (30th Anniversary) #JustDoIt advertising campaign. The slogan?
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Strong words, though I personally believe not just any something is worth sacrifice. But the outrage doesn’t seem to be aimed at the slogan, but rather the person. Or the perceived idea for which the person, Colin Kaepernick, stands.
Some would say Kaepernick hasn’t really sacrificed much. I’m in no place to say. I’m no football star. I don’t know what it’s like to be good at throwing a pass, outmaneuvering the defense, scoring touchdowns. I wasn’t abandoned by my father, given up for adoption by my mother. Nor have I experienced adoption, let alone by people whose skin tones did not resemble my own. I didn’t grow up as a misfit who didn’t quite fit in as a white person or as a person of color.That’s not my story. But like Colin, I do have areas of talent/gifting that I feel set me apart and make up a large part of who I am as a person. If I were asked or required to give these up, even for a greater good, that would feel a lot like sacrificing everything to me.
I just wonder, do people really know what they’re even protesting? Do they even know the person they’re protesting, or just some vague, misconstrued notion of what they *think* he is? Or maybe they just don’t really like their Nike shoes/equipment that much and this is as good a reason as any to burn or destroy them? Maybe they have enough privilege to destroy perfectly good clothing without any real impact to their budget. Not me. I don’t currently own any Nike shoes, but I do have and really like my Nike running gear – including shorts, shirts, and a hat. No chance I’ll be destroying any of it. I can’t afford, nor do I want, to replace them. Not over a calculated marketing decision by a large for-profit corporation. Certainly not over the person or position of Colin Kaepernick.