Colin Kaepernick sits on an island

Matt Poe

The quarterback who made the most noise in the NFL this week didn’t do so by slinging three touchdowns or leading a game-winning drive with two minutes left in the game.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is known for using his legs and feet to evade defenders. But the once-budding superstar and current backup made a whole lot of noise with those same legs and did so by not moving a muscle.

Kaepernick has been under fire this past weekend after he refused to stand for the national anthem during the 49ers’ third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.

Kaepernick’s rationale is that he’s “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

It’s a story that has brought the 28-year-old under a firestorm of criticism and backlash from every talking head on TV, and has inspired hot take after hot take by writers and columnists (including this one).

It has flooded Twitter and Facebook with debate from everyday people on whether Kaepernick’s stand (or lack thereof) is bold and inspiring, or a smack in the face to America and our military and servicemen.

I like to think what Kaepernick is doing is, in fact, somewhat inspiring. He is bringing a national issue like racial tension—which continues to unfortunately remain at the forefront of our country—into another outlet: the world of sports.

For a lot of us and myself personally, we can become numb to issues like Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, and other racial tensions when the cable news outlets tend to repeatedly circle the wagons on them.

It’s not to say these issues aren’t important; hell, they need to be talked about often, but we can only listen to it from the same, generic news coverage for so long until it begins to carry less weight and prompts the same “here we go again” mentality for a lot of people.

Enter Kaepernick. He’s bringing this issue to a completely different portion of the population who may not be as entrenched in the matters of racial tensions and oppression. That’s what all the great athletes who stood for something larger than themselves like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali did. It’s what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did when they famously held the Black Panther fist in the air at the 1968 Olympic Games.

While Kaepernick is nowhere near as successful in his respective sporting career, he still has every right to sit during the anthem.

That’s a huge part of this story that I think many people are neglecting: the success of an athlete. Abdul-Jabbar won multiple NBA Championships. Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world. Kaepernick has made one Super Bowl appearance and is now on the verge of getting cut from his team for his performance on the field and his “distractions” off the field.

I challenge you to ask yourself how you would feel if LeBron James or Michael Jordan made these same stances and refused to stand for the anthem. I have to believe a lot more people would cut them some slack because of their athletic and cultural influence, which is unfair to Kaepernick; that’s making the situation about him and not the cause he’s advocating. Then again, that’s just human nature.

When I first heard about his protest, I thought what many of you presumably did. I’ve never been a big fan of Kaepernick, a guy I always thought was overrated, overhyped and cared more about showing off his tattoos and abs rather than progressing into an elite quarterback. I like to think he understands that countless men and women sacrificed so much for him to have the ability to protest in whatever way he sees fit.

Whether or not you’re a liberal or conservative, I think we as a country are united in support of our military personnel and veterans and we as a nation come to their defense when it appears someone criticizes them. But in Kaepernick’s situation, it’s important to try to understand his message instead of it becoming lost in a barrage of spite and anger.

Contact Matt Poe at [email protected].