Just over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick went largely unnoticed as he sat on the bench while his teammates stood for the National Anthem.
At that time, some may have thought Kaepernick’s omission to be an anomaly. After all, the mercurial quarterback was known for his aloofness, and had just returned from a reclusive offseason retreat in Colorado.
The following week, however, Kaepernick explained his actions, telling reporters that he was sitting in the name of social justice. “If we have these conversations (about race), there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from,” said Kaepernick.
When reduced to its simplest form, Kaepernick’s protest advocates for the voiceless and oppressed in America. Amidst the succession of police shootings involving unarmed minority citizens, Kaepernick felt that victims of police aggression needed a champion, and the country a wakeup call.
“This stand wasn’t for me,” said Kaepernick last August. “This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice … and I’m going to do that (advocate) for people that can’t.”
Despite Kaepernick’s insistence that his protest is not an affront to the military, his actions have generated ire from people who believe that he has shown disrespect for American troops.
Perhaps the loudest individual to denounce Kaepernick has been President Donald Trump. Dating back to March of 2017, Trump told the quarterback to “find another country”, and recently called NFL players who have taken part in the protests ‘sons of bitches’.
According to Trump, and many others who do not support the protests, Kaepernick’s actions are at best a futile attempt to cure racial injustice, and at worst patent disrespect for the United States and the members of its Armed Services.
While Kaepernick, his supporters, and those who denounce his Anthem protest, are entitled to their opinions on the legitimacy of the #TakeaKnee movement, it is clear that both sides are engaging in conduct that is ‘American’ in every sense of the word.
Not convinced? Just ask the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
On the ‘Citizenship Resource Center’ portion of its website, DHS outlines the ‘Rights and Responsibilities’ of every US citizen. According to DHS, each citizen must demonstrate a “commitment to (the US) and (its) form of government.”
This commitment not only entitles citizens to a number of personal rights, but binds them to a set of civic responsibilities as well.
Chief among those rights is the ‘freedom of expression.’ The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to convey an opinion by means other than violence or illegal conduct.
For NFL players protesting the Anthem, their benign action of kneeling in dissent of racism conforms to DHS guidelines and the Constitution. Quite simply, the act of kneeling is a symbolic form of expression, done in a peaceful manner, which poses no threat to public safety.
The same is true for those who object to the player’s protest. It is equally legitimate for citizens who take offense to the #TakeaKnee movement to express their support for the Anthem, so long as it is done in a peaceful manner.
DHS also prescribes a set of civic responsibilities. At the top of that list is the duty to ‘Support and defend the Constitution.’ In other words, US citizens are obligated to adhere to the rule of law, and honor and protect the provisions of our founding document.
It is here, especially, that Kaepernick supporters and detractors find their common ground. As opposing parties engaged in constitutionally protected political discourse, both are peacefully arguing the legitimacy of the Anthem protests, and in a way that the Founders would have readily endorsed.
More importantly, by litigating the validity of each other’s opinions, both parties are defending the spirit of the Constitution. As a broad and pliable text, the Constitution lends itself to a variety of interpretations, which fosters the kind of vigorous debate seen with the Anthem protests.
So, while these groups may hold different opinions, their exercise of free speech is equally valid according to DHS guidelines and the Constitution. Although this conclusion may be lost in the fog of a race-related debate, it is true to the vision of our Founders and the democratic principles of the country.
As NFL players continue to kneel on Sunday afternoon, it is important that reasoned opinions are formed on the legitimacy of their protest. It is essential, however, that all who hold those opinions realize that while they may disagree, they do so as US citizens.