“If you don’t want to stand for the national anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots AT you, since they’re taking shots FOR you.”
Those unsettling words were uttered by a public announcer at a high school football game in the United States this week. That’s right, a high school game. Apparently, the “entire crowd went crazy cheering”.
When parents watching school sport are genuinely excited about the idea of a sideline firing squad, it’s fair to say that your country has gone completely, certifiably insane.
It’s been a little more than two weeks since NFL star Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand during the American national anthem, sparking a wave of similar protests from his fellow players. That’s where this fiasco started.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick said at the time. Fair enough. He has every right to remain seated, and he happens to have a point as well.
But even though Kaepernick has done nothing wrong, he has done something stupid. He’s turned too many people against his cause.
In a nation as intensely patriotic as the United States — they do sing the national anthem at school games, after all — snubbing The Star-Spangled Banner is one of the most provocative political statements imaginable.
Kaepernick was willing to risk his reputation to defend his beliefs, and that is admirable. He certainly achieved one of his goals, because America is now having a conversation about race — albeit one that probably hasn’t lived up to his hopes.
However, if Kaepernick wanted to actually get through to the people who disagree with him and change their minds, he could not have chosen a worse form of protest.
— The Fanatics View (@thefanaticsview) August 28, 2016
Just consider this understandable reaction, from the mother of a fallen American soldier.
“My heart is exploding, my lungs are without air, my blood is boiling, my body is shaking and tears are running down my face,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“(My son) died protecting the ideals of the flag you (Kaepernick) refuse to respect. He died so that ungrateful, privileged, arrogant men like you can be just that — ungrateful, privileged and arrogant. Men and women willing to die to protect you because they believed in the ideals this country was founded on. Men and women of all races and religions.
“Ask them, sir, about pride in the American flag. Ask them how their heart feels when they hear the national anthem being sung.
“Shame on you. Shame on you for your disrespect towards those who are true examples of honesty, integrity, pride and leadership. Shame on you for disrespecting my son and his life. His sacrifice.”
If Kaepernick and the other NFL stars who have echoed his protest knelt during the national anthem every week for the rest of their careers, they would never convince that mother to have sympathy for their cause. And there are millions more like her.
According to polling from YouGov, 57 per cent of Americans disapprove of Kaepernick’s actions. Among white people, who presumably need to hear his message the most, the split is 23 approve, 69 disapprove. Some of them, like the public announcer at that high school game, have reacted with an ugly fury.
“It’s just so easy to hate,” said Arian Foster, a Miami Dolphins player who also knelt before his game yesterday.
“If you’re proclaiming to be a true American, freedom runs in our bloodlines, right? It’s supposed to. If somebody is telling you they don’t feel like they’re free, why wouldn’t you listen to them?”
He’s right, of course. In a perfect world, everyone would look past the protests themselves and consider the message behind them. But in the real world, Kaepernick and the other players who snub the anthem are only provoking hostility from the people they need to win over. How does that help?
These guys are NFL superstars. They spend their lives in the media spotlight. Any of them could call a press conference at a moment’s notice, or set up a TV interview, and make a compelling case for the rest of America to wake up and do something about its racial inequality. Some people would still react in disgusting ways, no doubt, but most would at least be willing to listen.
Instead, the United States is stuck in a cycle of resentment and alienation, with two sides of the racial divide talking at, not to each other.
The 49ers played again today, and once again, Kaepernick sat out the anthem. He’s genuinely trying to improve the situation for African-Americans. Unfortunately, in the process, he’s only making it worse.
This article was originally published on news.com.au