You probably already know this, but just in case you haven’t been paying attention, here is a breakdown of the main facts surrounding Colin Kaepernick:
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last summer and fall when he chose not to stand during the national anthem that precedes every NFL game.
His quiet act of protest (which he had done without incident several times before reporters asked him about it) sparked a firestorm of controversy and a series of similar protests from several other NFL players, continuing the ongoing national conversation about incidents of police brutality that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement
Kaepernick went on to have a fairly uneventful year on the field. His team went 1-10, but his individual performance was decent; he threw for 16 touchdowns against 4 interceptions, earning a total QB rating in the bottom third of starting NFL quarterbacks (pay attention to that word: starting quarterbacks).
Now, on the eve of another NFL season, Kaepernick has yet to be signed by any NFL team, despite not only being better than most (if not all) of the QBs signed ahead of him as backups, but according to star cornerback Richard Sherman, better than several current starting QBs as well.
This collective unwillingness to sign Kaepernick (some call it blackballing, but whether it’s a coordinated effort or a series of risk-averse GMs choosing not to court controversy, the net effect is still the same) has sparked unrest among African-Americans, and several have called for an NFL boycott, including evangelical pastor Leroy Barber, a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan.
Now… whether Colin Kaepernick is truly elite, whether he’s washed up, whether it’s a good business decision to sign him for NFL franchises or not… none of those are the main concern of this post.
No, my main concern is to address the main criticism I see lobbed at Colin Kaepernick from conservatives who feel that his protests were disrespectful. One Facebook acquaintance said that many veterans feel like it’s “a slap in the face” to disrespect the flag or the anthem.
The inference here is simple: Colin Kaepernick must not love America, because if he did, he wouldn’t be protesting.
Allow me a brief thought experiment while I demonstrate my moderate habit of switching ideological teams…
Corporal punishment is not only a hotbutton issue and another flashpoint in the culture war, but a delightful euphemism for what most black folks know to be “gettin’ a whoopin.'” All manner of stand-up comedy routines are premised on the cultural observation that many liberal White parents are opposed to the idea of spanking their kids (these two R-rated bits from Russell Peters and Aries Spears and come to mind).
I’m not a parent, but I know many parents and I’ve had a pretty active role in helping to raise two of my nephews. And I believe that using physical punishment can — operative word here is can — be an appropriate way to discipline children. I know there are many conservative parents who grew in Christian households who understand this concept, because I met a lot of them during my growing up years. (That neither Aries Spears nor Russell Peters apparently grew up with any of these families is probably a result of the lack of ethnic diversity in suburban and rural enclaves where spanking your kids is more socially acceptable, but that’s neither here nor there.)
If you believe in spanking your kids, then it’s easy to answer the hypothetical objection:
How can you spank your kids if you truly love them?
The answer is usually something to the effect of:
I love my kids too much NOT to spank them.
The idea is that when a child is young enough not to know to, for example, run out into the street without looking, you need them to associate that behavior with a measure of physical pain, because they can’t truly understand how painful and life-threatening it would be to actually get hit by a moving automobile. Since you don’t want them to have to learn that way, you give them a smaller dose of pain so that they can learn not to do it, and you trust that eventually they’ll learn in time why that behavior is so problematic.
Most parents that I know who have practiced this form of discipline (including my own!) understand that there are risks involved, and do their best not to cross the line over into child abuse. They may do it only up to a certain age and then change their tactic to taking away privileges. Or maybe they’ll only do it with a certain belt, ruler or spatula that might sting a little but will ultimately do no lasting damage to their bodies. Many make sure that it is a last resort.
My dad used to say this expression to me before he gave me a whoopin’:
This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
Now, as an adult, I know what he meant. He loved me so much that he didn’t want me to experience pain, but at the same time, he saw enough potential in me that he didn’t want to ruin me by allowing me to reject his discipline and just do whatever I felt like. He loved me enough to look past the short-term feelings of pain I would experience and foresee a future of me being mature enough to make wise decisions on my own, and in a desire to point me in that direction, swallowed his own existential discomfort and whooped my ass.
So the idea that parents who spank their kids do not love their kids… well, to most conservatives, immigrants and people of color, that idea is both laughable and dangerous. Those concerned about anti-Christian sentiment often point to this trend, where parents who use physical discipline are painted as religious whackjobs taking their fervor too far. That there are religious people who do, in fact, abuse their children shouldn’t be held as proof that all physical discipline is child abuse. That’s a classic rhetorical fallacy, akin to — pardon the expression — throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
In his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used a metaphor of America as a promissory note, claiming that the promise of equality and prosperity that America appears to offer has been showed to be repeatedly unavailable to black Americans.
In the decades since his assassination, many of Dr. King’s words have been distorted by conservatives with only a cursory understanding of Dr. King’s message, but even those conservatives who cheaply appropriate his legacy, none of them have, as far as I know, ever claimed that Martin Luther King Jr. hated America. (As of this writing, Steve Bannon is still in the White House, so I guess anything’s possible.)
But even that would be a bridge too far, wouldn’t it?
Nobody can credibly say that a man whose signature piece of oratory centered around a dream of peace and equality in America can plausibly claim that such a man does not love America. On the contrary, it is more accurate to say that Dr. King loved our nation enough to hold itself accountable to its ideals.
So it can be said of Colin Kaepernick.
Colin Kaepernick has explained, repeatedly, the motivation for his protest. Here’s a quote from late August of last year, during an extensive press conference he held on the subject:
Ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things going on that are unjust [that] people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. This country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all… and it’s not happening for all right now.
Does this sound like a man who hates America? Not to me. I hear a man who loves America enough, who sees the inherent promise of the American dream, and doesn’t want that dream to be continually delayed, corrupted, and shunted into bankruptcy because of racism, authoritarianism and hypocrisy.
And those who complain about that protest because they say it’s disrespectful to veterans… they’re completely missing the point, because:
A) many veterans supported the stand that Kaepernick took because they shared his concerns… but also
B) a “slap in the face” is still better than a 9mm slug to the back.
Those who complain about Kaepernick on behalf of veterans are prioritizing hurt feelings over the actual unjust killings of black people at the hands of state-sanctioned law enforcement officers. It’s not only disrespectful, but generally illogical.
So if you’re a conservative who can’t understand how Kaepernick could love America but give it such harsh rhetorical treatment, just imagine America as a bicentennial toddler in need of a spanking.