THE MISFORTUNE OF BEING COLIN KAEPERNICK
By Carol Rushton
As we approach the 2018-19 NFL season I am reminded of poor little Colin Kaepernick. He’s sooooooooooooooo mistreated. No football team will hire him because he’s standing – oops, kneeling – for truth, social justice, and the American way, the downtrodden, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. . . .
Oh, wait, I think that’s a poem.
Kaepernick is no stranger to adversity. His mother, a single white teenager at the time of his birth, had to put him up for adoption because his black father abandoned him and his mother before he was born. Kaepernick was adopted by a white couple with two older children.
While this was not an ideal way to start life, Kaepernick’s adopted family must have provided enough love, encouragement, and stability to give him the impetus he needed to become a very good athlete, excelling in football, baseball, and basketball, eventually earning a football scholarship to the University of Nevada. Kaepernick’s baseball skills were so impressive that the Chicago Cubs drafted him in 2009. But Kaepernick wanted to play football, not baseball, so he passed on the opportunity.
Kaepernick is so far the only player in Division I college football to pass for more than 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000, truly an astonishing feat. Only Tim Tebow has matched him for running for 20 touchdowns and throwing 20 touchdowns in one season. When he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, Kaepernick’s wish to play professional football came true. When he landed the starting quarterback job and lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012, he must have thought he was living the ultimate American dream.
And why not? Just by itself, this is truly an iconic, rags-to-riches American story, the kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story that could only happen in the United States of America. Little boy, born in adverse circumstances, works hard for years, and eventually obtains success, fame, and riches. That’s when the wheels started to come off.
It is amazing that Kaepernick could go from hero to goat in such a short time. In 2015, Kaepernick lost the starting quarterback job and never really regained it. Although he did eventually start some games in 2016, the 49ers lost most of those games.
It was during the 2016 season that Kaepernick decided he would not stand in honor of the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem played before the start of every sporting event in this country. When asked why, Kaepernick replied, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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 paid leave and getting away with murder.”
I can understand Kaepernick expressing this sentiment in 1860 before the Civil War and the repeal of slavery, or in 1960 when blacks and whites had separate schools, water fountains, hotels, and everything else you can think of while suffering under Jim Crow laws. But oppression in 2016?
Kaepernick was not born in the most ideal of circumstances, but he rose above those circumstances to achieve the American dream and make millions of dollars every year doing it, whether he actually got to start in every football game or not. “People of color” are predominant in most American professional sports teams today. In American professional sports leagues, an athlete is hired or not hired based on his or her talent, skill, and ability to perform in that sport, not based on skin color. This is true not only in sports but every other field as far as I know. Everyone has the same opportunities in this country, regardless of the color of your skin. In fact, it is illegal in this country to base a decision to hire someone on skin color. “People of color” are oppressed in the United States? Hardly.
No wonder there was such a backlash from Americans at large to Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem. When other football players throughout the NFL mimicked Kaepernick’s “take a knee” protests, viewership of NFL games during the 2017 season tanked. Most football fans stated they weren’t watching the games anymore because of the national anthem protests.
Kaepernick and those who supported his protests defended him and others by saying that the football players had freedom of speech and forcing them to stand for the national anthem would be taking away their free speech rights. Oh, really?
You do not have free speech at your job. I will give a personal example.
My fulltime job is as a customer service representative for a very large company. My job is to take customer phone calls and help that customer any way I can without violating company policy. For most of the calls I receive, I am “putting out fires,” in other words, trying to fix problems a customer has with his or her order.
I am also very pro-life and a conservative politically. What would happen if I started trying to convince my company’s customers to vote for pro-life legislation or to vote for or against a particular political candidate running for office? I would lose my job very quickly. My job is to help customers with their orders and any problems associated with those orders. It is not to state my political opinions. While I certainly have the freedom to vote for whoever I want and advocate political positions away from my job, I don’t have the freedom to express my political and religious positions to customers while I am working.
How would you feel if every time you called a company or walked into a store to buy something and the employees of that company talked to you about their political opinions or urged you to vote a certain way? Would you appreciate it? Of course not. You’re not in a store to be harassed and harangued by company employees about your religious and political viewpoints or lack thereof. You’re there to buy stuff. If that happened, you wouldn’t shop at that store anymore, would you?
What is the job of a football player? The job of a football player, or any professional athlete, is to win, whether it is winning a game or defeating your competitors. When you step on that football field, your focus is to beat the other team and win the game. Your job is to win enough games so that you and your team can go to the Super Bowl and win football’s highest honor. Your job is not to make political statements on the football field.
This is why so many football fans were disgusted with Kaepernick’s kneeling protests. When people watch a sporting event, whether in the stands or on TV, they want to see their team play and win the game. They do not want to be lectured by football players on the political issues of the day or have a football player’s political and/or religious views shoved down their throats. Because of Kaepernick and others, football fans turned off their TV sets or watched something else instead. Kaepernick made his decision. Football fans made theirs, not surprising considering the circumstances.
There is a cost for every decision you make. Sometimes the cost becomes apparent very quickly. For some decisions, you may not see the results for years. For example, you may decide to eat donuts for breakfast instead of fruit, yogurt, and eggs. No one is holding a gun to your head. You made that decision voluntarily. Over time, if you continue to eat that way, your body will feel the effects of that decision, good or bad.
This also extends to more serious decisions in life: what job to take, how much to spend each month, who to marry or whether to marry at all, political views, religious opinions – these can oftentimes come with very high price tags especially in today’s amoral world. Not everyone is going to approve of every decision you make or everything you espouse. Especially in the realm of politics and religion, depending upon where you live, the price you pay may involve persecution, imprisonment, and even death. Those who live in tyrannical countries like Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and China know the high price of expressing their political and/or religious beliefs. But they have counted the cost and are willing to pay it.
Sports analysts insist that Kaepernick is perfectly capable of performing the role of a backup quarterback on NFL teams that need one. That may be true. But that’s not the issue. Kaepernick has become a distraction. He has decided that his right to express his political beliefs on the football field is more important than winning football games. How can a team properly prepare and focus on defeating an opponent each week when the most important player on their team is more concerned about how much attention he brings to himself for his political views than he is winning football games? I don’t blame NFL coaches for not hiring him. If I were an NFL football coach, I wouldn’t hire him, either, I don’t care how talented he may be.
Jack Brewer played for several NFL teams before he retired after the 2006 season. He recently spoke out about the league’s new rule that all players must stand for the national anthem. “At the end of the day, the players have to realize, the public has to realize, these guys are at work. When I played [for] the National Football League, I was at work. There is no job in America that you can go into and protest your political views in the middle of your job. . .Can you go into your workplace right now and start protesting your political views? No, you’ll get fired” (CNS News, May 29, 2018, “Fmr. NFL Player: There’s No Job Where You Can Protest Your Political Views Without Getting Fired”).
Brewer offered a solution to players who want to express their political views.
I mean, if we want to protest, let’s go to Capitol Hill. We have voices. We have millions of Twitter and social media followers. We could talk about these issues and actually go find real solutions without threatening to leave. . .African American men who have made millions of dollars and been able to go in and change their families, change their communities. Why would you want to hurt that? . .the league has lost 25-30%, ratings are down, money’s being lost, why would you want to kill the golden goose? I don’t get it.
Brewer is right. If Kaepernick feels so passionately about certain political issues, he certainly has the right to devote his time off the field to those causes he thinks are important. But his political views should not be his focus when he steps on to the football field.
(By the way, the San Francisco 49ers did not fire Kaepernick. Kaepernick made the decision to voluntarily opt out of his contract after the 2016 season to become a free agent.)
Kaepernick can sue the NFL for teams not hiring him all he wants. He simply does not want to take responsibility for his actions. He doesn’t want to accept the consequences of his decision to refuse to stand in honor of our national anthem and our flag and the resulting outrage that caused. Instead, he wants to whine and cry like a baby about how unfair it is that he must pay a price for expressing his political viewpoints where they are not wanted or needed. Kaepernick is not a little boy. He’s a man. He’s supposed to be an adult. It’s time he started acting like one.