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Sports, Protests, Patriotism and the Hypocrisy of Many

Nike revealed this week that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be one of the faces for its new “Just Do It” marketing campaign.

The first installment of the campaign has a black-and-white photo of Kaepernick with these words embossed over it, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick spent six years in the National Football League with the San Francisco 49ers.

The quarterback gained notoriety when he chose to sit on the bench in 2016 during the U.S. national anthem. He indicated his action was meant as a protest regarding reports of police brutality around the country.

After getting advice from former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer, Kaepernick decided that kneeling during the anthem would be a more respectful way to protest.

After the 2016 season when he became a free agent, no other NFL team signed Kaepernick to a contract.

He has filed a collusion case against the NFL, claiming the teams worked together to keep him from playing in the league. The league has denied the accusation.

After the announcement of Nike’s deal with the former quarterback, the backlash was immediate and visceral.

Some fans destroyed their Nike shoes and gear, claiming the company was being unpatriotic in its apparent support of Kaepernick. This has been a running theme as Kaepernick has chosen this form of protest.

President Donald Trump offered harsh criticism of Kaepernick and any other player following suit, suggesting, “Get that son of a bitch off the field.”

From the onset of Kaepernick’s protest and the reactions following, one question has loomed at the back of my mind: What would be an appropriate way for him to protest what he sees as an injustice in the U.S.?

Would you have supported Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott? How about Martin Luther King Jr. and others taking a knee to support a voting rights act?

Kaepernick is trying to bring to light the terrible injustices the African-American community experiences every day.

He is attempting to challenge citizens to look at the racial disparities in our policing and criminal justice system, so that people might demand changes.

Instead of looking at the problem he is protesting, critics choose to focus on the means of his protest. It leaves me to wonder, “Why?”

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

Much later, World War II hero and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded a crowd, “May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

And at the height of the Vietnam War and its protests, New York City Mayor John Lindsay stated, “The fact is that this dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

The real reason behind the criticism of Kaepernick’s protests may be the erroneous idea that dissent equals disloyalty, disrespect or both.

Kaepernick has gone out of his way to be respectful to veterans while at the same time protesting what he sees as an injustice.

If critics don’t understand his purpose and means, that says more about them than it does the black quarterback attempting to call attention to injustice.

Another aspect to this story is the blatant hypocrisy of critics suggesting that as a professional athlete Kaepernick should stick to football and be silent on matters of cultural significance.

How can folks support a reality-TV star as the president of the United States, but think that a black athlete silently kneeling during the national anthem is somehow outrageous?

Only supporting like-minded voices – while at the same time attempting to silence dissenting voices – is hypocrisy at its worst. It’s also un-American and unpatriotic if we believe Eisenhower.

For Kaepernick’s critics, there seems to be only one brand of patriotism, their brand of patriotism.

As the country continues to be divided over football players taking a knee during the national anthem (a small microcosm of a larger divide), I would like to point to one of America’s greatest presidents who fought to hold the Union together.

President Abraham Lincoln offered this bit of wisdom to a bitterly divided country, “If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it.”

Now, where are my new Nike running shoes? I need to let off some steam.

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.