San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has immersed himself in a national controversy by refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem in protest of what he sees as wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick said that he has discussed his feelings with his family and, after months of witnessing some of the civil unrest in the U.S., decided to be more active and involved in rights for black people. Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents and siblings.
Now, many people disagree with Kaepernick’s actions. They cite the idea that if Kaepernick really wants to create change, he should focus on the inner city environments where young black men are left to kill one another. Certainly, he has the financial means to bring about something positive there.
Of course, there is also the argument that cites patriotism as a value – the idea that so many have died for Kaepernick to have the right to protest, that he should at least honor those lives and stand for the country’s constitutional values of freedom.
Kaepernick said that he is aware of what he is doing and that he knows it will not sit well with a lot of people, including the 49ers. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed.”
Indeed, Kaepernick has drawn much ire, especially from supporters of the military and police. Yet, while I understand all those objections to Kaerpernick’s actions, none of them stand out in my mind.
Here is what strikes me. Colin Kaepernick has been in the media spotlight for months now for his expression of his beliefs. He has been lauded by many in the media and his protests have spread to other sports, even those in high school. In large part, the society as a whole supports his protests. In some twist of irony, his actions are seen as courageous and the media attention has turned quite positive.
But, now consider quarterback Tim Tebow’s wearing of Bible verses on his “eye black” and his quick bow and prayer after a score. Tebow was also expressing his beliefs, and doing it quietly, yet he was ridiculed to no end for his actions.
Comedian after comedian, talk show after talk show, everyone took a shot at Tebow. He was lampooned and told to keep his personal beliefs and religion off of the playing field. The hypocrisy of supporting Kaepernick while disrespecting Tebow is palpable. And, of course, the questions abound.
Why the double standard? What is it about religion that frightens people or sets them off? And how can Christians, who are charged with evangelism (spreading of the gospel) negotiate a world with these kinds of double standards? How are Christians to be ready to defend the hope we have in us in the public sphere if we are ridiculed for simply having our beliefs and expressing them?
I do not have answers to those questions. I only have suspicions. Among them is this:
Yes, there are bodies in the streets and people getting away with murder. Indeed, there are. Yet, I have a fairly good idea what the response would be if Colin Kaepernick were to kneel during the national anthem to protest the violent massacres of Christians by ISIS in the Middle East.