When I heard about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, I jumped up and started cheering him on as if he were running for a game-winning touchdown.
Finally, someone in the public spotlight was taking a significant stand on behalf of people of color in the United States. I was pumping my fist when he said, "I have to stand up for people that are oppressed."
But I got a pit in my stomach when I heard a reporter ask Kaepernick if his refusal to stand for the national anthem was disrespectful to the U.S. military.
Here we go, I thought. There is a widely-known relationship between pro sports and the Pentagon, as detailed in a recent Senate report describing how the Defense Department had paid at least $6.8 million for what’s known as "paid patriotism," in which tributes to the troops were carried out at sporting events in exchange for money.
I haven’t stood up for the national anthem or the pledge of allegiance in years. It’s not an easy thing to do while in a city council chamber or at a football stadium filled with 100,000 fans.
Just like Kaepernick, my refusal to stand for the anthem is based on my belief that I have to stand up for people who are oppressed, inside and outside of the US And how could I ever stand up for a song that actually celebrates slavery?
When I hear the national anthem I think about the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Palestine, Syria and much of Latin America who have been brutally oppressed by the US military for years, if not decades. There’s no chance I stand up and honor that concept.
Sure enough, when pressed, Kaepernick said, “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country… And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone.”
I’m not going to hold that against Kaepernick because I so admire what he is doing. But to say that the US military fights “for freedom… liberty and justice” is not accurate. It would be like someone saying cops who kill black people are doing so to “protect and serve.”
In my mind, glorifying the military is like glorifying cops.
I challenge any flag-waver to tell me one war that the US military is currently fighting that protects my Constitutional rights. I have never worried that someone from another country is trying to take away my rights — the only people who are a threat to my “freedoms” come from within my own government.
So, I sat back down and smiled at the fact that, even though Kaepernick didn’t score a game-winning touchdown, he put his team in position to kick a game-tying field goal.
But Kaepernick’s NFL brethren have largely fumbled, thus wiping out any chance of there being a mass awakening to what the US actually stands for right now.
It’s gotten so bad, that other black players and former players are attacking Kaepernick because he’s “only” half black. Former NFL player Rodney Harrison said Kaepernick "is not black" because he’s only half-black, and not 100% black like Harrison. (It should be noted that Harrison is part of an elite NBC announcing team – in order to protect his status as a highly paid NFL analyst, guys like Harrison sing the party line, regardless of race.)
That’s ugly, but given the hyper-patriotism environment in which we live, it’s not unexpected, and that’s why I am thrilled that Kaepernick at least took his team down the field for an opportunity to score.
Chris Ernesto is cofounder of St. Pete for Peace, an antiwar organization in St. Petersburg, FL that has been active since 2003. Mr. Ernesto also created and manages OccupyArrests.com and USinAfrica.com.