Addressing Colin Kaepernick

I am going to start this post by doing something unusual—comparing the career and season statistics of two National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks. No worries, though, because this comparison serves a greater purpose…

Quarterback #1’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 58.4, 1.74 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 86.1 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #2’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 59.8, 2.4 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 88.9 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #1’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 52.9, 1.36 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 75.8 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #2’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 59.2, 4 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 90.7 quarterback rating.

Quarterback #1 is Cam Newton, who had a down year last year but was the 2015 Offensive MVP and is still viewed as one of the bright young stars of the NFL. Quarterback #2 is Colin Kaepernick, who is currently not on an NFL roster.

While I am sure other football fans can find statistics where Newton compares favorably to Kaepernick, the point of this comparison is not to say whether Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback. But the mere fact that the unemployed Kaepernick has statistics even comparable to a former NFL Offensive MVP should tell people one thing about the current state of Kaepernick’s career: his unemployment has nothing to do with football, and everything to do with the fact that many of us (myself included, at times) resent athletes who challenge our society’s status quo.

The most recent example of this is with Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers player refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year, and is not on an NFL roster this year thus far.

However, this is far from the first time that an athlete faced severe consequences for challenging the societal status quo. Muhammad Ali, who was almost universally praised after his death last year, was reviled by many for his refusal to serve in Vietnam and his outspokenness on racial issues. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were forced to return the medals they won in the 1968 Olympics because of their Black Power salutes in a medal ceremony while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. And a big stir was made when Magic Johnson came out as being HIV-positive at a time when HIV/AIDS was still stigmatized, only to play in the 1992 National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game and the 1992 Olympics.

If one were to consider Kaepernick, not as an isolated incident, but within the greater history of activist athletes, the conclusion is that there is a resentment toward athletes who challenge the status quo. Such resentment has stayed strong, even though decades have changed.

To those who feel that resentment, I urge all of you to at least hear out Kaepernick, even if you don’t agree with him (myself included, as I didn’t agree with his not voting in 2016). I urge everyone to hear him out because, when athletes double up as activists, it is often for good reason and often produces positive results for our society. For example, Muhammad Ali’s outspokenness on racial issues positively contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, and Magic Johnson’s openness on testing HIV-positive started to remove the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. It remains to be seen whether Kaepernick will make contributions as positive as those of people like Johnson and Ali, but given the fact that positive things can and often do happen when athletes double up as activists challenging the status quo, we should at least give him a chance.

Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick. By Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Colin Kaepernick) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Colin_Kaepernick_-_San_Francisco_vs_Green_Bay_2012.jpg

 

The Forgotten Injustice of the American National Anthem

On Independence Day next Tuesday, many Americans will bring out American flags, talk with pride about the nation’s heritage, and proudly belch out the American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

I was especially proud to sing our national anthem in the years after 9/11, when I was too young to understand the full meaning of the song, but also old enough to realize that the song was to many people a symbol of defiance towards terrorists who tried to destroy the nation’s identity. But these days, I have trouble singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at all, let alone singing it in public.

Before people call me unpatriotic, just as many called NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick unpatriotic for his refusal to stand during the American national anthem, please hear me out. I too am a believer in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” even if those ideals did not extend towards African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and others for many decades after that phrase was first used. But the fact is that, if the United States of America wants to carry out a universal, inclusive, and just vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” our current national anthem is not a representation of such a vision.

In making this claim, I point to an oft-forgotten part of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—the third verse:

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave…from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

These two lines from the third verse make it sound like the author, Francis Scott Key, was celebrating the death of African American slaves.

To add historical context to the verse, African American slaves who fought for the British were offered freedom in the War of 1812. Hence, the British served as a “refuge” for slaves, since they seemed to offer slaves what they wanted—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

However, slaves fighting for the British did not give Francis Scott Key what he wanted, which was the preservation of the United States of America. Once the British-allied slaves got killed, on the other hand, the United States stood a greater chance of having a preserved country.

Between the lyrics and the historical context of the lyrics, it certainly seems like this portion of the song celebrates the death of slaves trying to free themselves from slavery. Since it celebrates enslaved death instead of freedom and life, the American national anthem is not a song that celebrates an inclusive, universal, and just version of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Many of us forget about the injustice of the song (the third verse in particular) because we only sing the first verse. However, we should not let ourselves forget about any part of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This song refused to extend the vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” towards a whole group of people (slaves, particularly slaves fighting for the British), and everyone who sings this song should be mindful of that fact.