So Colin Kaepernick, a professional athlete poised on the downside of his none-too-special career, isn’t standing up for the national anthem before pre-season football games. Ring the alarm!
It took two weeks for the sports and political shouters to notice his seated stance—at which point he explained that it’s his form of protest against a “country that oppresses black people”—and to begin screaming about it in the last slow August week before people get back to work and the election supposedly gets serious. Once words got out, though, the usual idiots, from the first-time-long-time call-in set all the way up the chain to Donald Trump, patron saint of the shouty old white man, found a useful target for their fury.
Call it America’s burkini ban moment, a furious fight about a meaningless symbol in a rough sports world parallel to Rudy Giuliani’s efforts all year (beginning with her halftime show at the Super Bowl, not so incidentally) to beef with Beyoncé about who’s saved more black lives, him or her.
So, the silent protest that’s ignited a million hot takes, with many more coming when he’s said he will sit through the song again Thursday night. NASCAR star Tony Stewart—who needlessly killed a man!—said the quarterback needs to “learn to learn the facts about police before running his dumbass mouth!” Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports tweeted: “$61m guaranteed… Very oppressed #ColinKaepernick.” Jay Gruden, the coach of the Washington football team with the outright racist name, declared that “We have a ton of respect for what goes on for our country with those people (in the military). For three minutes for us to take our helmet off and stand up and give respect is how we treat it here with the Redskins.” Savages heart soldiers, y’all.
And on and on, straight through Trump himself, who said, “I think it’s a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It’s not gonna happen.”
The white guy who’s trying to become president by saying America is no longer great says the black guy asking America to be great and live up to its ideals should shut up or get out.
Which brings us to the NFL’s real scandal—one Trump and Kaepernick’s many other critics either didn’t even notice or chose to ignore. It was less than a year ago that Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake came out with a brutal, headline-making report that the military paid sports teams millions to promote the war machine. Eighteen NFL teams cashed in, banking checks in exchange for putting on what appeared to be “from the heart” salutes to hometown heroes and the like. The New England Patriots, for example, made $700,000 for pretending to be, well, patriots.
Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints gave a fairly measured series of comments explaining why he reveres the anthem and sees our flag as “sacred” while repeatedly calling his fellow quarterback’s decision to sit through the anthem “disrespectful” to the flag. He said nothing last year when the news came out that the Saints had been paid $475,875 by the Pentagon for hosting events “honoring” Louisiana National Guard members.
Sitting through the anthem is a form of respectful protest—one that Kaepernick, fighting for the starting quarterback role for the San Francisco 49ers, is doing at real risk to his career given the huge backlash, including fans burning his jersey and executives on other teams declaring that they want nothing to do with him.
The 49ers, on the other hand, a franchise worth a staggering $2.7 billion, nonetheless bothered to pocket $125,000 in change to pretend to respect the troops. When the team faces off in San Diego against the Chargers tonight, it will be at the home team’s “salute to the military night”—a Thursday night pre-season game. Which makes sense, now that the team no longer collects cash ($453,500, according to the senators’ report) for putting on flag presentations and color guard ceremonies.
That was pimping out patriotism, and spitting on the flag. Trump and his gang didn’t even notice.