The Kaepernick Paradox


By Lauren Saltzman Co-Editor-in-Chief Everyone rise for the singing of our national anthem. Seventy thousand spectators stand at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers. As the national anthem plays, all eyes should be on the American flag, but instead, they are looking at the one man in the building who is kneeling. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has played for the team since the 2011-2012 season. He has over 1800 rushing yards and 56 touchdown passes in his career, but the most prominent moment in his life occurred before the first whistle of one game. It all started during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers when Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem brought to light his cause. “I’m not anti-American. I love America,” said Kaepernick. “I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better, and I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.” Colin Kaepernick rose to stardom quickly, and took the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. After having another great season in the following year, Kaepernick has since fallen back to earth and has lost his starting position to Blaine Gabbert. Kaepernick’s protests have been met by mostly positive but also some negative feedback. Regardless of the public’s general opinion, it is undoubtable that he has been at the forefront of American media. In addition to fighting for his political cause, he is also fighting for his starting spot, which has and will continue to be threatened by quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Chip Kelly, the 49ers coach, has previously been outspoken on how he values team coherence, but has not pushed back against Kaepernick’s actions and will not take them into consideration when deciding the starting lineup. After having done previous interviews about his views on America’s state and the Black Lives Matter movement, Kaepernick’s cause did not gain much traction. He was just a quarterback speaking out— no different than anyone else. But when you use a 57,600 sq. foot field as your platform for standing up against social injustice, people are forced to, and will, listen. Kaepernick’s background as an adopted light skinned male has molded him. Growing up in Nebraska with white parents and white siblings, he had to deal with many racist situations that many other light skinned African-Americans did not. In turn, he has become more cognizant of racial injustice. An example that parallels Kaepernick’s story is Malcolm X. He was the only black person in his entire school and once said that he felt like “a strange black mascot for the school.” Regardless if either of these two men knew it at the time, their childhood experiences paved the way for them to become outspoken on the issue of racial inequality.


In the podcast, Politically Reactive with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu, the duo talks with writer and activist Shaun King about Kaepernick’s upbringing and career. Kaepernick graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was offered many scholarships to prestigious schools, but his dream was to play football, so he ended up at the University of Nevadacertainly a good school, but not as highly regarded on a national scale. As a kid, Colin had always said that he wanted to play for the 49ers. It took his life in a direction that would cause most people to underestimate him. “People tend to view football players in a one-dimensional light and don’t view [Kaepernick] as an intellectualhe is a very sharp guy who has very strong opinions,” said Shaun King. The public was introduced to Kaepernick only knowing a small part of what was going on inside his head. NFL executives have spoken out against Colin Kapernick and have said, “He was the most hated man in the NFL since Ray Carouth (who had his pregnant girlfriend killed),” and, “I hate him.” W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu (podcast hosts) talk about the absurdity of comparing a Black Lives Matter activist to a man who had his girlfriend and son murdered. The podcast goes on to note that if Kaepernick had mentioned his plans to anyone, he would have been talked out of them. So maybe it’s good that he didn’t mention it to anybody — it makes his action more courageous. This is now a permanent part of his life story. He is never going to be just the quarterback of the 49ers again. He will always be the quarterback who did not stand for the National Anthem. He has also influenced other football players, including his teammate, Eric Reed, and cornerback, Jeremy Lane (Seahawks), to not stand for the national anthem. His message, although controversial, has brought to light the bigotry that resided within Francis Scott Key, the composer of the Star Spangled Banner. Key made it illegal for abolitionist speeches to be made and owned plantations and slaves. The third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner contains these four lines:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Francis Scott Key wrote about the intentional killing of slaves. Additionally, the most prominent line in the whole song, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” was made to rhyme with the words “slave” and “grave.”


Unless you have long been a Colin Kaepernick fan or a 49ers fan, you probably haven’t been following Kaepernick’s instagrambut if you have, you will see that this is not a new cause for Colin. Kaepernick’s Instagram (@kaepernick7) is used to connect to his fanbase of over 1.4 million. If you scroll back in time, his feed is mostly sports posts, but then you will start to see that he is deeply bothered by the horrific racially-charged events that have plagued our country. He shares posts about the daily killings that happen in our country. In mid-August, a notable post of his was captioned, “Freddie Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury, while in police custody, and the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, yet there was not a single conviction!” Although some were in full support of Kaepernick’s cause, some took offense. Many believe that Kaepernick is actually disrespecting the country that gave so much to him. In what other country could he have acquired a net worth of over $16 million by playing a professional sport? One outspoken Instagram follower of Kaepernick commented on the Freddie Gray post, “Our goddamn country literally fought for years to get freedom and equality rights for all races and you sit here and bitch and moan because one kid died in police custody. Doesn’t give you the right to disrespect an anthem that stands for the fact that allows you to speak your mind—  just terrible.” The question forming in the minds of many is: If Kaepernick is utilizing his first amendment rights, is it disrespectful to not stand for the flag that bestowed those rights upon him? We see this dilemma everywhere in our world and in the halls of ours school daily. Everyone has unique opinions that deserve to be shared, but often times, one’s actions can be misconstrued by another due to the lack of knowledge on the issue, or the reason for said action. Reading about Colin Kaepernick has taught me that there is never one side to an action or, more importantly, to a person. Before judging we need to think about how and why something is happening. It’s unrealistic that we will all agree, but discussion and recognition of others’ points of view is something that we can do because of where we live. There is no clear answer to the Kaepernick paradox, and because of our country’s ability to have freedom of speech, everyone is expressing their different opinions on the issue. But what cannot be overlooked is the fact that the public is more focused on what Kaepernick is doing as opposed to why he is doing it. Not until you look beyond the act of sitting for National Anthem will you find the real message Colin Kaepernick is trying to convey.]]>