I am a proud US Army veteran. I’m also a longtime fan of the New Orleans Saints, mainly out of love for the city, and always harbored a vindictive streak towards San Francisco’s division-dominating team as a result. So you might not expect me to be a Colin Kaepernick fan, but I am one now.
That’s why I have signed an open letter supporting his right to sit down — or take a knee — as he sees fit during the national anthem. Organized by former US Army Sergeant Richard Allen Smith, the open letter at Medium.com is an appeal for focus on the issue Kaepernick raises.
For generations, American athletes have used their public voice to force our collective attention towards the crises and issues that challenge our national conscience. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Ariyana Smith, the Minnesota Lynx, the Missouri Tigers football team, and stars across professional sports declaring that #BlackLivesMatter, are all part of a brave tradition of protest by athletes. Far from an anomaly, athletes leading on social change has been the norm in America. The right for those athletes, and all Americans, to protest is one we all pledged to defend with our lives if necessary. Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.
While we would not all personally choose to protest in a manner identical to Kaepernick, we respect and honor his choice, and whole heartedly join him in stating unequivocally that BLACK LIVES MATTER. The current state of affairs for people of color in America is unsustainable and unacceptable. According to analysis by the Washington Post, black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans. Far too often, people of color are dying at the hands of law enforcement personnel in the streets, our jails, and their homes. Indictments are rare and convictions are essentially nonexistent.
This status quo outrages us as men and women who raised our right hands and pledged to defend, with our lives if necessary, a Constitution that proclaims intent to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,” and “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Those ideals are simply not being upheld for all Americans.
As veterans, we implore all Americans to find your own way to challenge this status quo and advocate for “a more perfect union.” Your method of protest may not be to refrain from the traditions surrounding our national symbols, and it doesn’t have to be. You have the same right as Colin Kaepernick to choose whether and how to advocate, a right we support and served for. However you choose to use your voice, please do so with an understanding that many veterans do not condemn the protest of activists like Jackie Robinson, Colin Kaepernick and everyday Americans seeking justice. Indeed, we see no higher form of patriotism.
Here’s Richard Allen Smith on MSNBC yesterday explaining his motivation for organizing 35 fellow military veterans to sign his statement supporting Kaepernick. In particular, I share his impatience with questions about “tone” in regards to Kaepernick’s socks. NFL uniforms are among the most closely-policed in the world of sports; Kaepernick was fined $10,000 for wearing the wrong headphones two years ago. So even if I don’t agree with the message on his socks, I understand why he wore them.
If anything, Kaepernick’s actions are making NFL football interesting to me again for the first time in a few years. I had been a Saints fan in some measure because they had never won a Super Bowl, and part of the magic wore off after they eventually did that. Then came the revelations about concussions and head injuries, a logical result of the game’s origins in cultural reenactments of industrialized warfare. It made me less enthusiastic for the violent collisions inherent in the sport. I’ve gotten to the point where I struggle to recollect recent Super Bowl champions because I just haven’t been as invested in them.
But I’ll be watching Colin Kaepernick this season, and I hope he goes all the way. Win or lose, playoffs or not, I want him to succeed in getting us to talk about things that really matter, such as the life and liberty of African Americans facing the racial animus and aggression of police officers. The unpunished slaughter of Tamir Rice is infuriating because it is so un-American. It stains and dishonors everything Richard and I served to protect.
Compared to that, we could not care less whether Kaepernick wears the right socks, or stands up during the national anthem, or scores a hundred touchdowns.
Featured image via Flickr under Creative Commons license