Sitting down, standing up

Before a few weeks ago, my wife, aware as she is about the world around her, did not know Colin Kaepernick from Capper Collarnick.

That probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I don’t know who Capper Collarnick is, either.

Still. Stick with me.

My wife had never heard of Colin Kaepernick until, for reasons he has made clear enough, he took a public stand against racism and policy brutality by sitting down. Now, Mary Jo and everybody else in America has heard of the guy.

(Kaepernick, for background’s sake, is the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who launched his protest by not standing for the National Anthem before a preseason game.)

The initial reactions when Kaepernick sat were stupidly swift and so, so, sooooo predictable. Kaepernick was:

A.) An ignorant, selfish, privileged punk with no respect for America, someone who doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices that so many have made just so ungratefuls like him can play a game, or

B.) An American doing what Americans are allowed — in fact, are expected — to do.

By now, things have calmed down to the point that most right-thinking people will allow that Kaepernick is free to exercise his rights as an American. By now, those who still are upset with Kaepernick — and there are many — have settled on a quieter kind of objection; they accept his right to protest (because, of course, it’d be anti-American not to) but still are steamed about the way he protested. They still don’t like that he didn’t stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

Well, first, Kaepernick’s method was, and remains (he kneeled during the Anthem on the NFL’s opening weekend) pretty damn effective. It has fired up a national conversation that has spread to other teams, to other sports, on other levels. People all over are standing up by sitting or kneeling. So, going by that, it’s hard to think that Kaepernick’s choice of delivering his message could have been done any better.

Strangely, though, the conversation continues to be less about what Kaepernick had to say — few would argue that racism, police brutality against African-Americans and social injustice are real and need to stop — than how he said it.

I get that. I have five brothers, all of whom served in the military. (Me and my sister were the holdouts of the seven Donovan kids.) My dad served in World War II. My mom was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. I grew up with military memorabilia all over our garage and my uncle’s battle stories about storming a hill.

I stood for the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. I’ve stood for more National Anthems than most people I know. Every time, I stand. I was taught that the flag represents America and everything good about it, and that we should be thankful to live in such a great country. And that’s what I hear when people talk about Kaepernick.

He has it so good, better than he’d have it anywhere in the world, and he can’t even appreciate it? He’s a fricking NFL quarterback, worth millions of dollars, and he thinks America sucks so bad? To hell with that guy.

If I took a poll of my siblings, Kaepernick would get his ass kicked, probably, 6-0. At worst, it might be 4-2. It’d be a rout any way.

But really. Come on.

Forget the how already. Listen to the what.

He’s a black man in America who is pointing out the fact that being black in America is dangerous and it shouldn’t be. It’s potentially deadly, and it shouldn’t be. That’s undeniable. That’s inexcusable. He is saying — he has said — that people in power should be held accountable for the violence against African-Americans and the racism that pervades our society. He is calling for change.

Kaepernick used a unique and powerful platform at his disposal — a bigger and more powerful platform than he’ll probably ever have in his life — to say his piece. It was a brilliant and bold choice, sure to draw anger. And he’s evidently fine with that. He accepts it as part of delivering a message that needed to be delivered.

Unfortunately, for too many, the noise has obscured the signal. But for those who care, for those who really want to listen, for those who stop to think about what he’s saying, the message is there. It is clear.

Colin Kaepernick wants America to be better than it is. Shouldn’t we all?

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