Kraig D. Emery: Understanding Colin Kaepernick

  • A large billboard stands on top of a Nike store showing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco's Union Square on Sept. 5. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/16/2018 12:40:22 AM

My journey with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began in late August 2016, when he made national headlines by sitting on the bench, rather than standing, during the singing of our national anthem.

His decision sparked outrage across America, and I felt it too as I wondered how any “true” American could disrespect our beloved country by doing such a thing. It happened during Military Appreciation Night, which incensed me even more.

In the post-game press conference, he explained his reasoning: the continued oppression of African Americans and people of color, along with the prevalence of police brutality.

I, along with so many others, was not paying attention when, later in the game, he applauded when the military was honored and then stood for the singing of “God Bless America.”

But in future games, he took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and to me that was about as un-American as one could be.

I was angry. This guy was disrespecting the very things that this great country stands for. To be clear, my views had nothing to do with race. I felt it was wrong, and as his protest gained momentum I became afflicted with tunnel vision. Contrary to my core values, and against the very principles that have formed throughout my life, I dismissed another’s point of view without ever trying to understand the whole story.

Peaceful protest

As a child during Sunday school, I was inspired by the peaceful teachings of Jesus and came to admire those who, at great personal risk, peacefully protested for the betterment of humanity. This includes not only historical figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., but everyday people who stayed the course and believed that they could truly make a difference.

In my high school years, I participated in peaceful protests to bring about change regarding the state’s stance on Civil Rights Day (which New Hampshire was the last to adopt). I’d like to think we played a small part in that decision.

One of the most important privileges of being an American citizen can be found in the First Amendment, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Often we focus on “freedom of speech” and not so much on “peaceful assembly.” One of the most important rights of American citizenship is the ability to speak up for what you believe in and challenge those with whom you disagree. Those who oppose you are allowed to do the same.

Often, the result is positive change for both through compromise and understanding. In my view, that is how America shows its best and truest colors.

Kaepernick sat, and then kneeled, during our national anthem. “Our” is the key word here. He continued a civil rights conversation that has lasted for centuries. He stood up, or rather took a knee, for an honorable cause. He did so peacefully and risked his career to do what he felt was right. He has stayed the course.

Most people avoid confrontation and “go along to get along.” Kaepernick took to the national stage to help make America better for all of us. Is that a hero? That’s for you to decide.

Many people are upset about Nike’s deal with Kaepernick. I pose this question: When have you given up your dreams and livelihood for a cause? I haven’t, and I’m doubtful many have. No matter how you define it, that’s courageous.

Of course, you can argue that he made millions and can afford it. You can argue “employer’s rights” compel him to stand for the anthem. You can even argue that his contract with Nike, though details have yet to emerge, will be more lucrative than his career may have been if he had continued.

Agree or disagree, in the end we are just arguing. This issue has plagued our country for far too long. To be a voice for others is admirable. After all, is there anything more American?

In the recent Nike commercial, Kaepernick says, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” This quote, too, has been criticized and over analyzed. As a father, I could think of no better advice to give my children.

I would also advise that it is important to admit when you are wrong, no matter how strong your beliefs. To be sure, you wouldn’t see me take a knee during our national anthem, but I sure would stand by those who do.

So how does one go from a lifetime of respect for their fellow man to tunnel vision? I have no idea, but it certainly got the best of me, and I regret it.

In the words of Author Po Bronson, “There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice.”

We all have a voice. And I’m thankful to remember what mine sounds like.

(Kraig D. Emery lives in Concord.)

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