There is always controversy that goes along with any protest, but no institution in America knows controversy like the NFL.
The 2016-17 football season kicked off in early August as it has for decades. The performance in preseason was lackluster as always and fans geared up for the start of the regular season. However, this NFL preseason was particularly interesting and controversial, as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick elected to sit during the national anthem of the first three preseason games in an effort to bring awareness to the social injustices that black people face everyday. Unfortunately, Kaepernick’s protest of the anthem was construed as an anti-American and anti-military display by some, despite asserting his protest was peaceful and for what he deemed to be for the “true” spirit of America. He told NFL.com, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” and fielded questions about his actions calmly and intelligently. However, most of the league and the country still labeled Kaepernick a disgrace and a communist as they implored him to leave this country.
Despite all of the anger and hatred swirling around the issues Kaepernick is standing for (metaphorically), there remains undeniable and unchangeable facts in his favor. Not only is it Kaepernick’s unalienable right to conduct a peaceful protest, but the large amount of white Americans and NFL associates lashing out at him do not understand the root of the problem; black people are simply not treated the same way white people are in a country that prides itself on liberty and justice for “all.”
While there may be discrepancy over the statistical accuracy of police killings among black and white people there is no discrepancy over the fact that the NFL is more than two-thirds black. A 2015 census conducted by the The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports showed that 68.7 percent of players in the NFL are black. As it stands, this means 68.7 percent of NFL players are six times more likely to be incarcerated for any crime than the remaining 31.3 percent players. However, that fact gets less attention while players and media view this demonstration as an anti-military stance. Former Army Green Beret and NFL long snapper Nate Boyer has been on both sides of the equation and he understands the real issue here. On August 30, Boyer wrote an open letter saying he has witnessed “genocide first hand in the Darfur region of Sudan” and he was proud to have grown up in a country that was as safe and free as America. In this same letter, Boyer empathized with Kaepernick and acknowledged that this country gives him the right to protest peacefully, which is exactly what Boyer fought for. In fact, Boyer says he looks forward to the day that Kaepernick once again feels the flag represents a nation worth standing up for.
For those still unconvinced of Kaepernick’s intentions, consider another point Boyer addressed: The Army Special Forces motto is “De Oppresso Liber” which translates from Latin as, “to free the oppressed.”
The very institution that fights to protect Kaepernick’s rights to protest against oppression, literally goes into battle with a written creed to stop oppression all over the globe. However, self-proclaimed military lovers have yet to even mention this motto, but instead choose to label Kaepernick a traitor against our country and our military. Fortunately, many servicemen and women have taken to social media to voice their support for the young quarterback, starting the Twitter hashtag #VeteransforKaepernick. Many of these veterans echo the same idea. “We serve to protect freedom, not a song,” tweeted one supporter. “Free speech is free speech, always.” Even veterans who do not completely agree with all of Kaepernick’s points still believe in his right to express his opinions, saying, “I will defend your right to say them (opinions) to death.”
Oppression is very much still alive in this country and unfortunately not everyone can see it. While Kaepernick still faces resentment, players around the NFL have joined him in his protest to bring awareness to social injustice. The root of Kaepernick’s protest is to shed light on the nasty truth of oppression and hatred in the United States, but that root message is being drowned out by the very same oppression and hate. Regardless of the ever prevalent hate, the NFL, its fans and quite frankly this country, need to adopt Boyer’s and the Army Rangers’ guiding motto: “De Oppresso Liber.”