Last Sunday marked the 2016 inauguration of the NFL season. While millions of fans across the country were anxious for kickoffs, it was also a somber day in American history: marking the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks. Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem has drawn both controversy and support amongst fans and players throughout the league. From an exclusive interview with NFL media, Kaepernick said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”. On a day that brings Americans together to remember the fallen, we witnessed a divide in the NFL as can be seen with the Seattle versus Miami matchup.
While a few players on the Dolphins, namely Arian Foster, Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas and Jelani Jenkins took Sunday’s game as an opportunity to support Kaepernick’s cause, the entire Seattle roster locked arms with one another as the Spangled Banner played. It seemed this display by the Seahawks promoted honor and respect for those who have served and sacrificed for the flag. One perspective to listen to on this matter is Army Ranger vet and bronze star medalist Alejandro Villanueva. As left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Villanueva said that “I think the majority of Americans would agree that there’s an issue with minorities in our country” but resolved “I just think that shotgun blast and not standing up for America is a little bit unfair on his part because it’s not really taking into consideration the minorities that are fighting for the flag, like myself”. After all, it was the courage of troops like Villanueva that allows Kaepernick and others to protest freely. One question that can be drawn from all this is- will the protests of these players actually make an impact for racial equality?
As an organization as a whole, the NFL last year generated an estimated $12 billion dollars last season. With such high revenues and viewership, Kaepernick’s protests have made recent headlines, even getting President Obama’s attention who commented: “ he’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so.” Kaepernick is helping bring a conversation to American’s on racial inequality, donating the proceeds from his jersey sales “back into communities”, and pledged to donate a million dollars from his salary but will this make a difference? New Orlean Saints Quarterback Drew Brees was not sold on Kaepernick’s approach saying- “ No, he can speak out about a very important issue. But there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.”. While Kaepernick and others protesting the National Anthem are certainly raising awareness for racial inequality, if their actions are going to make a positive difference for others remains a question. One stronger fact of the matter is how Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin puts it- “15 years ago on September 11 is one of the most devastating in U.S. history and after that day we were probably the most unified that we’ve ever been. And today you struggle to see the unity.”