It has been over a week now since Colin Kaepernick sat during the playing of the National Anthem prior to an NFL Exhibition game. He was protesting discrimination against African Americans and police brutality in the United States. These issues have been in the forefront of public discussion since the shooting of Michael Brown just over two years ago. At various points and venues since the Brown shooting athletes have protested and offered various forms of support directly and indirectly to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Kaepernick’s action joins a long list of protests, and as has often been the case, Kaepernick has set off a wave of noise that has done little to stimulate the discussion of the subject under protest.
What has followed Kaepernick’s action has been massive public criticism of the 49ers quarterback for the act of sitting during the national anthem. Critics have in turn denounced him for disrespecting the flag, attacking the police, and insulting the military especially those who have been casualties in what has turned into our state of perpetual undeclared war. He has been criticized for being an ungrateful athlete who has made millions from his football skills, for assuming that anyone wants to hear from a mediocre player on any subject, and for being an African-American who has the nerve to speak publicly on matters of social concern.
Protests involving the national anthem and the flag have a long history and I don’t want to recapitulate the details of that history here. The playing of the national anthem at sporting events in the United States goes back a century of more, although the playing of the anthem before any and all sporting events dates back to World War II. The practice did not end when the war ended and it became permanent with the coming of the Cold War. It is now a requirement rather than a special practice. It is of interest to many that the United States is the only country in the world that uses its national anthem to introduce its sports events.