Player sits for anthem, exercises a basic human right

An athlete’s refusal to stand during the national anthem has set off a debate over the role celebrities play in social issues and activism.

Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, said he couldn’t “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Even though it is often seen as a formality to stand for the national anthem before a sporting event, the NFL encourages its players to stand, however, it is not required, according to a statement released by the NFL this week.

Recently, Kaepernick’s tune has changed because of the backlash he received.

He no longer sits out the national anthem; rather, he goes down on one knee.

Before the 49ers final pre-season game, Kaepernick took to one knee facing the flag.

He was joined by teammate Eric Reid and Nate Boyer, a former green beret and college football player, who came out in support of Kaepernick after his original display.

Kaepernick is no longer seeking a position of disrespect and defiance to the flag: rather, he wants to use his platform as an athlete to affect race relations in the United States.

Even if you disagree with his stance, which is common in sports culture today, Kaepernick’s actions started a meaningful conversation. It’s a huge risk to his career in the NFL.

Much of the ownership in the league tries to assert a culture of avoiding public distractions to the team, especially in the media.
Teams steer clear of playerswho have a history of speaking out or defiance.

Many players remain close to the vest, refusing to comment on controversial issues for fear of losing their jobs.

Take the example of Myke Tavarres, a rookie linebacker trying to make the roster for the Philadelphia Eagles.

After Kaepernick spoke on the state of race relations in the U.S., Tavarres echoed him, pledging to sit out the anthem for his remaining preseason games.

Hours later, the pledge was rescinded after his former college coaches and agent implored him to not be a distraction to his team, according to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The overwhelmingly white majority of NFL owners and general managers have an explicit way of enforcing their beliefs over their players: don’t become a distraction to the team, or we’ll make your services expendable.

Historically, professional athletes have been scared off from public social activism. Athletes who spoke out against the system and issues in culture could have been seen as radical.

Today’s climate of police brutality and social injustice makes activism more important than ever.

Professional athletes are given a platform where they can speak out on issues to improve society.

Kaepernick’s actions became controversial because we are not used to seeing this level of honesty from our athletes.

This shouldn’t be the norm; he’s risking playing time, and potentially his career, to give voice to the issues that he thinks are being overlooked.

Shouldn’t we give Kaepernick the freedom to speak his mind?