Kaepernick: pioneer or naïve?

By Matt Cracknell

Race relations are fast becoming the biggest issue currently facing America and Colin Kaepernick has been at the forefront of protests in recent months.

Since the 14th August, Kaepernick has refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against racial inequality and police brutality across America. It was a public protest that started privately as Kaepernick went unnoticed sitting throughout the national anthem during the San Francisco 49ers’ first two pre-season friendlies. However, since then it has gained international attention, with numerous sport stars joining and supporting him in various ways.

Throughout America, the issue has proved divisive. Recent incidents in Baltimore and Ferguson have led to riots and race relations reaching the lowest levels seen since the early 1990s. Kaepernick has vowed to continue his protest until “there’s significant change and [he feels] that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”

On Sunday afternoon, Kaepernick took to the field for the first time during his protest as the starting Quarter Back for the 49ers against the Buffalo Bills. His side were on the wrong side of a 45-16 score line; however, it was the reception he received at Orchard Park that has drawn the majority of post-game attention. Kaepernick was faced with boos, chants of “USA, USA” and T-shirts questioning his patriotism from a small minority of fans.

It is hugely difficult to judge the reaction of a nation based on one Sunday, and Kaepernick undoubtedly had his supporters – around 50 knelt with him during the national anthem outside the stadium and in his post-match interview, Kaepernick claimed to have had plenty of thanks from Bills fans. We also have to remember that he was the visiting QB at one of the most notoriously fanatical stadia in world sport.

It will be interesting to compare this week’s atmosphere with two weeks’ time, when Tom Brady returns with the loathed Patriots. I would argue that this will be far more aggressive, and much of the hostility faced by Kaepernick on Sunday came from the simple fact that he was not a Bill.

America is hugely divided on this issue, and a small sample of fervent football fans in relatively liberal New York probably isn’t the best sample on which to gauge national opinion. Donald Trump has called for Kaepernick to “find a country that works better for him”, and in a recent Reuters poll 61% of Americans disagree with Kaepernick’s stance.

This, though, does not give the full picture. Kaepernick’s success can surely only be measured through the eyes of those he is campaigning for. A YouGov poll put support for Kaepernick at 72% among the black community and public figures backing him has swelled in recent weeks. This support can only continue to rise as he gains more publicity through his newly acquired starting role.

Whatever your opinion of Kaepernick’s methods, it is undeniable that he has brought huge publicity and opened up the debate throughout America. The Star Spangled Banner concludes with the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Kaepernick will continue his protest until he feels his country reflects those values, and it is hard to deny, whatever your opinion of him, that he is exhibiting plenty of both bravery and freedom.

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

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