It is now officially fall – which can mean a lot of things for different people.
By now, I have usually gotten a first look at several NFL teams, including my beloved Chicago Bears.
But, this year, things are different: I have made a conscious decision not to watch the NFL, until Colin Kaepernick is treated fairly.
The 29-year-old quarterback made national headlines during the 2016 NFL season for kneeling during the national anthem, sparking a movement among athletes across the sports spectrum. That movement was reignited this past weekend, when the U.S. Commander in Chief described the act as disrespecting the flag and called for players who kneel during the anthem to be fired.
Kaepernick’s explanation for his action: to support Black Lives Matter and to protest police violence against people of color. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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,” he said in a published report.
And he vowed to continue his nonviolent protest until he feels like “[the American flag] represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
Well, he’s not sending his message from a football field this season (because no team has signed him). Some argue that it’s because of his stats. Others, including me, believe it’s because of his posture against racial injustice and because we don’t want to be reminded that something is terribly wrong in America (including an anthem that celebrates the murder of slaves in its third verse).
I think Kaepernick’s stats speak for themselves – ESPN reports that last season he threw for 2,241 yards in 12 games and had a quarterback rating of 90.7 (and quarterbacks with much less impressive stats are on NFL rosters this year).
But I don’t want to get caught up in that dialogue. Let’s focus on the kneel.
I have a coffee mug with a message that reads: “When Life Gives You More Than You Can Stand, Kneel.”
Could it be that Kaepernick, a black man in America, had experienced all that he could stand, so he kneeled?
One of Kaepernick’s formers teammates, Eric Reid, said in a published report: “What Colin and Eli (Harold) and I did was peaceful protest fueled by faith in God to help make our country a better place. And I feel like I need to regain control of that narrative and not let people say what we’re doing is un-American. Because it’s not. It’s completely American.”
Could it be that Kaepernick, a Christian, is inspired by his faith to kneel?
Could it be that instead of disrespecting the flag, he is showing a deep respect for the God who granted this nation its freedom?
In his own words, Kaepernick said in a newspaper interview: “I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field.”
Until Kaepernick is allowed to return to the field to glorify God, I will not watch the NFL.
Kaepernick may not be kneeling on the field this days, but others – like the NFL players, coaches and owners across the league on Sunday who sat, kneeled, raised fists, locked arms or stayed inside locker rooms as the anthem was played before games – will continue to make a statement about their commitment to working toward justice for all (including those who some people think do not have a right to peaceful protest).
This isn’t about disrespecting the flag, this is about humbling ourselves, acknowledging America’s racial justice failures, recognizing that we are all created equal, and working to help America live up to its promise of being a nation where freedom, liberty, and justice reign.
And maybe it’s time for one of those owners who took a stand against injustice on Sunday to bring Kaepernick back to the field.