Our flag has found itself at the center of controversy lately. One by one professional athletes are joining Colin Kaepernick on the stage of his high profile protest of America's national anthem and flag. The controversy started when Kaepernick, during a pre-season NFL game, sat on the bench by himself while the rest of his teammates stood facing the flag during the national anthem. Kaepernick later gave this response when asked about his decision to sit:
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
My question was - and remains - if the issue is bigger than football, why water it down with football. Because don't be mistaken, Colin, as a result of your stand, very few people are talking about a country that does indeed continue to oppress black people. They're talking about our military. They're talking about the irony and in some cases hypocrisy of a ten million dollar a year athlete speaking out on oppression. People are lining up to shell out $100 for one of your 49ers jerseys - your jersey sales have skyrocketed from #20 to #1 this past week on the jersey sales list - but joining the fight for social justice, I'm not seeing folks make the same investment there.
Many of your fans are supporting you for supporting a cause, but has anyone been inspired to do more for the cause itself? And unless your intention was self-promotion and jersey sales, hasn't this protest gone off course?
Protest is a tricky act for high profile athletes. It's too tempting for them to try use their stage and their platform to address social injustices or challenges. Because the reality is very few if any of these challenges are going to be cured by a stage. I would say they demand quite the opposite. They require people to risk comfort and maybe more to step into the teeth of these challenges and fight for change.
They need someone to refuse to give up their seat on a bus.
They need a relatively unknown preacher to take up her cause.
These challenges need fighters, not an NFL quarterback who has nothing to lose but Facebook and Twitter followers protesting a flag.
I'm not suggesting Kaepernick and other high profile athletes can't engage in the fight, I'm suggesting they need to be more thoughtful about it. More efficient. Maybe they should follow the lead of one of the highest profile athletes ever. Lebron James quietly worked with his foundation and other community leaders last year to dramatically increase the chances for 1000 young people in his hometown of Akron, Ohio of going to college. (LeBron James, University of Akron pave way for college scholarships for inner-city children).
Former Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn has quietly helped single parents have their own homes. (Warrick Dunn's Charity Has Gifted 145 Homes to Single-Parent Families)
Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph walked into a local middle school and noticed a young boy sitting by himself and sat down and ate with him. (Looking Beyond: When Disability Becomes Invisible).
Sitting and eating with the fight is always going to be more effective than finding a big stage to talk about it.
I've rarely seen fights that start in NFL stadiums go anywhere beyond football. Fights taken to the community, school lunchrooms, and local colleges, they go somewhere.
I don't have a problem with Kaepernick protesting the flag. The flag he's protesting offers him that freedom. But the flag has proved time and time again, no amount of protesting will defeat it. Out of the darkest of storms, the flag waves on.
Social inequalities, however, have faced their fair share of defeats the past 50 years. Many more need to happen, though. Many more. They are inequalities that leave many of our fellow Americans desperate for our focus on the fight. They know better than many of us that protests like Kaepernick's might raise awareness of their fight, but it does relatively little to help them win it.