Can you hear it? It’s the sound of soldiers cheering because they no longer feel disrespected. It’s the ghosts of the men and women who risked their lives for this country letting out sighs of relief. The Statue of Liberty is smiling. Even Jesus is giving a thumbs-up. America is great again.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick told multiple sources Thursday that he doesn’t plan to continue kneeling during the playing of the national anthem next season, ending his season-long protest to bring awareness to social injustice. Although he gave no reason as to why he’s decided to end his protest after one season, it is easy to surmise the most obvious, pragmatic justification:
A brother needs a job.
Today, Kaepernick will opt out of his contract and become a free agent since renegotiating his contract last year to give San Francisco more salary-cap space to sign other players. On his way out the door—even though he gave up more than $14 million this past season to help his team—the 49ers decided to throw shade at the QB, who led them to the Super Bowl only four seasons ago, announcing that they would have cut him anyway.
There are sure to be many people who are disappointed with Kaepernick’s decision to drop his pregame demonstration. Those people should remember that “Kap” traded his status as one of the rising NFL superstars heralded as “the future of the league” to take a stand for something he believed in.
Kaepernick probably won’t stop believing in, or fighting for, the causes he knelt for, but it is impossible for him to do any of that without a job. His refusal to stand for the anthem means nothing if he’s doing it from his living room. The national conversation he prompted happened only because he was a high-profile athlete.
He understood his position and used it to do something he thought was important, but he knows that the light he shed on the movement was because of his job. Now he needs a new job. Like most of us, he must now put on a suit and tie, go to the job interviews and try as hard as possible to convince employers that his blackness won’t interfere with the company’s bottom line.
Black people understand how white America feels about the impudent, bold black man with the unruly Afro disrespecting their country. It’s partly why we have a bloated Goldfish cracker in the Oval Office right now. Whether it’s the insinuation that black hair in its natural state is “unprofessional,” black women being painted as too “aggressive” or how we all tamp down our blackness to make white people more comfortable, we have all acquiesced to some form of cultural code-switching for the sake of a paycheck. Kaepernick knows—as we all do—that unapologetic blackness is NSFW.
Anyone questioning whether his dissent actually effected any change should ask the grassroots organizations that received the $1 million he pledged. They should go back and watch the NFL pregame, postgame and halftime shows that were forced to dedicate airtime to discuss America’s mistreatment of people of color while millions of people squirmed in their seats at the uneasiness of the thought.
They should remember the death threats, harassment and disapproval he received from fans, players and people who don’t even watch football. They should recall how he was accused of disrespecting the flag, insulting the troops, endangering police officers and being anti-American. They should ask the other professional, college and high school athletes who got the courage to take a stand because of Kaepernick’s actions.
Maybe he should stand for the anthem. Perhaps his job is done.
Although there were an inordinate amount of white tears, military veterans didn’t spiral into depression because a man who throws a ball for a living refused to stand at attention for a 200-year-old song rife with hidden racism. The flag didn’t lose its meaning (although no one has yet to explain how not standing for “The Star-Spangled Banner” is disrespectful to the flag). George Washington and Thomas Jefferson didn’t turn over in their graves (because they never stood for a national anthem, either). The NFL didn’t collapse under the weight of his protest (because no player stood for the anthem until 2009). No, Colin Kaepernick didn’t destroy our great country.
Kaepernick and black America both knew that police wouldn’t stop shooting unarmed people of color because he took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” No one thought that sitting out the National Football League’s empty pregame ritual of patriotism would instantly force the nation to fix education inequality, the income gap or the justice system. Kaepernick’s point was always that he wanted to take the mirror smeared with this country’s bloody history and apathy toward systematic abuse, hold it up to her face and force America to see her reflection.
He did that.