Old Glory: The Misrepresentation and Appropriation of a Protest

It’s time to Break It Down!

So how did we get here? And where is here, anyway?

Let’s answer the second question first. Here, is the point at which any mention of Colin Kaepernick, or the protest that he initiated during the summer, over a year ago, is routinely referred to by opponents of the protest as some kind of attack on, or desecration of our nation’s flag. Let us be clear; it is no such thing. The movement, if you want to call it that, is about police brutality and racial inequality. That’s what prompted Kaepernick’s demonstrations, first sitting, and eventually kneeling, during the national anthem.

Back to the initial query, how did we get here? I’m glad you asked!

Prior to a preseason game in 2016, Kaepernick sat down, as opposed to the tradition of standing, during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner“. During his post-game interview, he explained his position by stating:

“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.”

The quarterback indicated that he would continue to protest until he feels like the American flag represents what it’s supposed to represent. In the San Francisco 49ers’ final 2016 preseason game, Kaepernick switched from sitting to kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. In a detail most people missed, or at least fail to acknowledge, Kaepernick’s decision to alter his demonstration was intended to show more respect to former and current U.S. military members, while still protesting during the anthem. Moreover, it should be noted, his decision to change methods resulted from a conversation with former NFL player and U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer, who served in the Army, and who was a Green Beret.

After the September 2016 police shootings of Terence Crutcher, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Keith Lamont Scott, in Charlotte, NC., Kaepernick stated publicly that those shootings were perfect examples of why he was protesting. Over the course of the 2016 season, Kaep played twelve games and ended the season with 2,241 passing yards, sixteen passing touchdowns, four interceptions, 466 rushing yards, and two rushing touchdown. On November 27th, he recorded 298 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and 113 yards rushing in a game against the Miami Dolphins. In doing so, he joined Michael VickCam NewtonRandall Cunningham, and Marcus Mariota as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to record at least three passing touchdowns and 100 yards rushing in a game.

During the course of the 2016 season, Kaepernick and the 49ers restructured his contract. On March 3, 2017, he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco team, and is now an unsigned free agent. During the course of his protest, it is fair to say controversy ensued. So much so that despite there being no serious debate about whether Kaepernick is better than a number of quarterbacks who are currently on NFL rosters, he has yet to be signed by any team in the League.

Folks have lined up on the pro and con sides of the issue. Former football greats Jim Brown and Ray Lewis both condemned Kaepernick’s actions. Brown said he would never desecrate the flag as Kaepernick did, while Lewis said he would never kneel (postscript: Lewis did kneel this past weekend). Almost certainly, there has been no greater detractor of Kaep’s position than Donald Trump. I’ll say more about that later.

On August 17, former NYPD officer Frank Serpico gave a speech live on Facebook and stood with police officers at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in support of Kaepernick. Retired Officer Serpico inspired the 1973 Al Pacino movie “Serpico,” a story about a whistleblowing officer in the then corrupt NYC Police Department. Though most of the 75 officers at the bridge, wearing #ImwithKap T-shirts, were African American, Serpico, then 81, was an exception.

Serpico admitted to not being a football fan. He said he felt it was important to support Kaepernick for his stance. He went on to say of Kaep:

“He’s trying to hold this government up to the ideals of our Founding Fathers.”

Sgt. Edwin Raymond, who was on his way to work after the rally, spoke of the need for racial healing. He framed his point thusly:

“Until discussing racism in America is no longer taboo, we own up to it, we admit it, we understand it, and then we can do what we have to do to solve it. Unfortunately, until then, we’re going to have these issues.”

As Preseason 2017 melded into the 2017 Season, a loosely aligned, not well-organized movement emerged to join Colin Kaepernick by boycotting the NFL. It was the lowest of low-key efforts. Few people seemed to be aware of it, and of those who did, only a fraction seemed down with the program. Prior to last weekend, the total number of NFL players who’d joined Kaepernick in kneeling was less than two handfuls, nine, to be precise. As for the boycotters, I’m not sure there were many more.

So, this past Friday, September 22nd, while Donald Trump, ostensibly was in Alabama to support Luther Strange, a U.S. Senate Candidate vying to replace now Attorney General Jeff Session, he forever and in dramatic fashion, altered that dynamic. Incidentally, Strange lost to Steve Bannon backed candidate Roy Moore. OK, it’s later. I said I’d say more about Trump’s adversarial fixation with Kaepernick. Said fixation hit it’s zenith Friday night as Trump not only took on Kaepernick and anyone else who would dare protest, but apparently, he decided it was an apt occasion to denigrate their parentage as well. In front of a Trump-friendly Alabama audience, he said:

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. He’s fired.’”

Not surprisingly, many social media uses viewed this as a swipe at Kaepernick. However, over the course of the weekend, he would tweet two dozen times about sports, mainly football, but also basketball, hockey, and NASCAR. His tweets included disinviting the Golden State Warriors from a white House visit, extolling the Pittsburgh Penguins, who accepted a White House visit, and praising NASCAR for the way they deal with supporting the flag. Time to reiterate…it’s not about the flag.

There were 14 NFL Games Sunday, and another Monday Night. From London to Los Angeles, players on virtually every team knelt, stood with interlocked arms, or remained in the locker room. Even two Anthem singers got in the mix. Rico LaVelle dropped to a knee and raised a fist as he ended the song before the Lions-Falcons game in Detroit, while Meghan Linsey and her guitarist, Tyler Cain, dropped to a knee as she sang the last note of the song prior to the Titans-Seahawks game in Nashville. While in Alabama, Trump suggested if even one player knelt, the fans should get up and leave. Later during the weekend, as he tweeted, he suggested fans boycott the games. All things considered, it is compelling to see whom Trump sees as very fine people…and whom he sees as SOB’s. It might also help if he did not appear to subscribe to a “Just shut up and play” mentality. That really does translate into the football field being equated with the arena, sort of the old Colosseum of Rome. To further this point, Trump even managed to downplay, if not dismiss completely, CTE, or as it’s formally known, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the brain injury that many professional football players sustain as a result of receiving multiple concussions, while playing the game. Sad!

Almost imponderably, conservatives take great umbrage if/when anyone suggests Mr. Trump is a white supremacist, and/or a racist. Undoubtedly, his serial choices, from conflating Nazis and white supremacists with those who protest them to referring to what before Sunday were a few African Americans as SOB’s, contribute to that view. Perhaps if his defenders weren’t locked into automatically pivoting to some perceived Obama lack every time a Trump fault is raised, the political discourse in America could actually advance.

Ultimately, the crux of the matter boils down to this point. Judging from consistent and continuous feedback, there is never an acceptable time, place, or format for people of color to register dissent about the systematic mistreatment, frequently resulting in their death. Not by wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, not on Broadway (Hamilton), not by proclaiming Black Lives Matter (BLM), not by being articulate and promoting nonviolence, as Dr. King did, not by raising a fist in victory as Tommie Smith and John Carlos did, not by refusing to go to war, as Muhammad Ali did, and certainly not by kneeling on the NFL sidelines, as Colin Kaepernick did.

There is one other thing Colin did in the midst of this saga. He pledged a $1,000,000 (yeah, that’s right, one million dollars) to charity. What’s more important, by all accounts, he’s already donated virtually all of the money. Citizen, like it or not, in more ways than one, the era of shut up and play is over.

It is almost as though they are either unaware of, or they feel free to totally disregard the notion that the members of the armed services fight, and too often die for the right of men and women to stand…or sit for the flag (or any other symbol). By the way, there is a pertinent fact that should be elevated about the faux controversy regarding the flag. The practice of players standing for the flag is a relatively recent addition to the pomp and pageantry of NFL games. In fact, it’s less than ten years old. Prior to 2009, NFL players stayed in the locker room. The custom began when the U.S. Department of Defense gave the NFL $5.4 million dollars to stage on field ceremonies to make the teams “appear” more patriotic. In other words, it was a glorified, although admittedly slick recruiting tool. Don’t hate the messenger.

I am reminded that there was more tumult and raucous feedback over Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fighting than in the steady stream of unarmed African Americans killed by law enforcement officers, and then subsequently acquitted without even going to trial. Don’t get it twisted. That…is precisely why Kaepernick is protesting. Anything else is just noise, intended to deny, deflect, and/or deceiveOld Glory: The Misrepresentation and Appropriation of a Protest!”

I’m done; holla back!

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2 thoughts on “Old Glory: The Misrepresentation and Appropriation of a Protest

  1. Inciteful and accurate! Thanks for breaking it down! I am passing your article on to some that have fallen victim to the conflation and distraction in this matter!


    • Thx! I think there are two kinds of people. Those who know better, and who are intentionally Out to deceive or distort, and those who don’t know and get duped…because they don’t know, and are not motivated to research the matter themselves. As Trump might say, Sad!

      Those of us who know must not allow the issue to be hijacked.


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