Colin Kaepernick drew considerable attention to himself and the Black Lives Matter movement by sitting during the National Anthem before preseason games, in an effort to bring attention to the state of race relations in the United States. This article will not touch on whether the protests for Black Lives Matter are merited or effective, because I am not qualified to have an informed opinion on that — or at least an opinion that is worth sharing to the public.
Kaepernick scored in the 98th percentile (among all people) on the Wonderlic intelligence test, given to all players eligible for the NFL draft. He’s an intelligent and influential person who used his status in football to make a political statement. He stirred massive amounts of controversy — some lauding him and some despising him. He garnered a significant amount of personal attention, evidenced by an increased social media following and higher jersey sales. He announced a plan after his Sept. 1 protest to donate his first $1 million dollars of earnings this season to charities focused on racial issues. There may have been other, more effective or meaningful methods of protest, but Kaepernick is exercising his right to free speech.
Kaepernick and Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall — who protested on NFL’s opening night — both maintained that their protests were not meant to disrespect the military or to be anti-America. Sixty-eight percent of NFL players are black, making the issue of race relations extremely relevant and personal to their athletic population. This opening NFL Sunday, however, represented a new obstacle for the protesting players, as it marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There was an extremely fine line between what was acceptable and what was not. The attacks represented a major turning point in American history and are still permanently embedded in the minds of millions of Americans. Sitting through the National Anthem could be taken as a major sign of disrespect for the lives lost in the attacks and in the military responses following 9/11.
Interestingly enough, Kaepernick was not scheduled to play on Sunday, so he was not given the opportunity to continue his protest on 9/11. However, the players who did protest did so in a manner that was both respectful yet powerful enough to warrant attention. The Seahawks interlocked arms and stood in solidarity during the National Anthem. Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters held his black-gloved fist in the air — mirroring Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s 1968 salute at the Mexico City games. Four Miami Dolphins players kneeled during the anthem — but they still placed their hands over their hearts.
My opinion is that they did enough to get the attention of the media, but not so much that they overshadowed or hurt the reputation of the movement that they are trying to perpetuate. Had they not held their hands over their hearts or had they continued their protest throughout 9/11 memorials before the game, there would have been significantly more backlash than support for their protests. Donald Trump and Kate Upton, among others, disagreed with the protesters on Sunday, and expressed their disagreements to the press and over social media.
The players were able to respectfully honor those lost and those affected by our 9/11 tragedies, while still exercising their right to free speech that is protected by our military. Regardless of whether the movement is justified, the protest was done tastefully and respectfully on a day that protesting carried a risk of overshadowing both the Black Lives Matter movement and the effort to remember the victims of 9/11.