Monday, August 29, 2016

That Kaepernick thing, Part Deux

He's catching heat now, and not just the heat generated by all those outraged fans burning Colin Kaepernick jerseys. A former teammate has called him out. Super-patriots -- some of them supporters of a presidential candidate who's trashed America worse than Colin Kaepernick ever will -- have demanded the NFL cut him, or fine him, or suspend him until he stands to Honor America, as the mantra goes.

Here's the thing about that, and it's why you should respect the man even if you don't respect what he's doing: He knew this would happen.

He knew, by refusing to stand for the National Anthem, there would be a firestorm of outrage, because outrage is what we do best in America these days. Outrage is easy, after all. It doesn't require thought, only reaction.

And so Kaepernick has been tried and convicted of hating America, even though, if you listened to what he had to say in a sitdown interview over the weekend, it's clear he doesn't. He hates the injustices he sees that diminish America, not America itself. He wants to do something about those injustices -- even if, admittedly, he's not entirely coherent about what that is or how to go about it. And he wants to do that not because he hates America, but because he wants it to live up to its ideals.

You can say America already does that, but you can only do that if you live in an underground vault somewhere with your eyes and ears tightly closed. You can say there are better ways to protest the injustices Kaepernick sees, but protest is supposed to provoke a reaction -- and, by refusing to stand for the National Anthem, he's certainly done that.

I mean, we're all talking about him now, right? We're all listening to what he has to say, even if we're not really hearing it. Right?

So Kaepernick's achieving what he wanted to achieve, at least partially. And he's not, as he said in the interview, doing it to call attention to himself.

 "This stand wasn't for me," he said. "This stand wasn't because I feel like I'm being put down in any kind of way. This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people that don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and affect change."

You can disagree with him about that, and about whether or not standing for the National Anthem really affects change. You can call him naïve and stupid and any number of other names, some which only serve to make his point for him. But what you can't call him is a coward or that he's doing this for his own aggrandizement.

After all, he'd been not standing for the anthem for awhile without uttering a public word. He didn't seek attention, but waited until the attention found him. And now it has. And it's what he knew it would be. And yet he's going to continue to do what he's doing, even if fans keep burning his jerseys and calling him names and demanding the NFL make him stand for the anthem like a Good American -- which, frankly, would disrespect what that anthem stands for far worse.

He's going to continue. Even though, right now, he's doing it alone.

That takes guts. That takes commitment. No matter what you think of what he's saying or how he's saying it (or whether you accept the truth of it), the truth of that is undeniable.

For almost four decades as a sportswriter in Indiana, I stood at attention for the National Anthem. I even sung it once at a baseball game. I didn't do this because I thought America was perfect; I did it to honor what it could and should be, not what it too often is. That was my choice.

And this is Colin Kaepernick's.

I can't say I agree with it. I can't say I don't think it will, in the end, be counterproductive. But I respect the hell out of the obvious conviction behind it. I respect the hell out of his willingness to stand the gaff in pursuit of an ideal.

And isn't that what the rest of us honor when the National Anthem hits the air, and we all stand? Isn't it?

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